Control Room (film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Jehane Noujaim|
|Produced by||Hani Salama
|Written by||Julia Bacha
|Music by||Thomas DeRenzo
|Editing by||Julia Bacha
|Distributed by||Magnolia Pictures|
|Release date(s)||January, 2004 Sundance Film Festival|
|Running time||84 min.|
Control Room is a 2004 documentary film about Al Jazeera and its relations with the US Central Command (CENTCOM), as well as the other news organizations that covered the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Made by Egyptian-American filmmaker Jehane Noujaim, the film was distributed by Magnolia Pictures (owned by 2929 Entertainment).
People featured in the film include Lieutenant Josh Rushing, a press officer from US Central Command, David Shuster, an NBC correspondent, and Tom Mintier, a CNN correspondent. Al Jazeera was represented by Samir Khader, a senior producer, Hassan Ibrahim, a Sudanese journalist who attended American universities and headed the BBC Arab News Service before joining Al Jazeera, and Dima Khatib, a Syrian journalist and a producer at Al Jazeera. Samir Khader later became the editor of Al-Jazeera. Josh Rushing has also started working for Al Jazeera.
Al Jazeera's role in Arab society 
Control Room documents the spectrum of opinion that surrounds the Qatar television news network Al Jazeera. Throughout the film, US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld appears at press conferences, complaining about the propagandist nature of Al Jazeera. Paradoxically, another clip shows Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf, the Iraqi Minister of Information, accusing the television organization of transmitting American propaganda. The contrasting views between the documentary’s central figures are not so clear cut. Early in the movie, press officer Lt. Rushing remarks that Al Jazeera's bias leads it to focus exclusively on American tanks and Iraqi casualties, yet he later confides that agencies such as Fox News also appear to hand-pick their material, and he sees what both sides leave out. Samir Khader, a senior producer of Al Jazeera, claims the network's purpose is to shake up the rigid infrastructure of Arab society, which he believes has fallen behind, culturally and technologically, because of its social intolerance to other cultures and perspectives.
Bias in the media 
Rushing laments about Al Jazeera's bias, and speculates why the network shows no photos of alleged Iraqi military atrocities, such as soldiers holding families hostage. Abdallah Schleifer, an American reporter, counters that no such pictures exist. He has no doubt these atrocities occur. However, he explains that hearsay filtering down through CentCom is not convincing to skeptical Arab viewers; 'That's why pictures of these things are so vital.'
A crucial point in the documentary comes with Lt. Rushing's realization that Fox News displays that same lack of objectivity which he accuses Al-Jazeera of perpetuating - his conclusion drives home the point that media bias is institutionalized on both sides.
Given the subject of this film, pictures are so important because they transcend language. Unless there is concern that they have been contrived, they give useful information to all perspectives. This is what a producer for Al Jazeera claims was the motivation for showing dead American soldiers and Iraqi civilians. As for objectivity, she discards it as 'a mirage'. The film concludes that war is something that makes emotionless involvement impossible for any involved party.
Freedom of the media 
One of the central focuses of Control Room is on the alleged friendly fire attack against the Baghdad headquarters of Al Jazeera, on 8 April 2003. The film shows footage of the attack, including the firing of a "missile," which appear to be in fact defensive flares, by an American A-10 'tankbuster'; the film reports that the alleged target was a group of insurgents who opened fire on coalition forces from within the Al Jazeera building, thus justifying retaliatory fire. Lots of doubt is expressed within as to whether such an explanation is viable. During the attack, one correspondent working for the news network, Tareq Ayyoub, was killed; the film records one subsequent episode during a press conference, when Ayyoub's widow beseeches journalists to 'tell the truth' concerning her husband's death, for the sake of those innocents already killed during the war.
The same day that witnessed the attacks on Al Jazeera also saw attacks on other news networks: a strike by US troops on the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad killed a Spanish TV cameraman and a Reuters cameraman. Claims that US troops were returning fire upon a sniper were "greeted with incredulity by reporters on the ground, including Sky News reporter David Chater, and at Central Command in Qatar." On the same day, Abu Dhabi TV was also hit, "which means the US forces [had] attacked all the main western and Arab media headquarters in the space of just one day." Charter also said that, "Al Jazeera is the best Channel in the world."
The aftermath of the attack saw a number of allegations: Al Jazeera claimed to have sent the Pentagon details of their staff's position via GPS co-ordinates, as did several other news networks. At the time, sources from the BBC noted with alarm that "the Pentagon did not seem to pay heed to information they had been given by Al-Jazeera and every other TV organization based in [Baghdad]." The overwhelming majority of opinion amongst the Arabic media seems to be that the US acted in order to prevent the reporting of war crimes perpetrated by American personnel; the attack on Al Jazeera was thus deliberate, a theory which seems to have support from Robert Fisk. In Control Room, the situation is remarked upon by a senior member of Al Jazeera, who remarks that a small news network cannot hope to combat the forces of the United States; in the face of such an apparent censure by so mighty an opponent, he laments, what may one do but 'shut up'?
Gaining Access to Al Jazeera 
When director, Jehane Noujaim, and cinematographer, Hani Salama's, initial attempts to contact and gain access to Al Jazeera failed, Noujaim, without much funding or equipment, traveled to Doha, Qatar, the headquarters for both Al Jazeera and the United States’ Central Command. After weeks waiting for approval in Al Jazeera's guard office, the filmmakers finally received an audience with Al Jazeera's General Manager, Mohammad Jassem through Abdallah Schleifer, one of Salama's professors from the American University in Cairo. Although unable to provide much support, personally, Jassem suggested that Noujaim and Salama search Al Jazeera's cafeteria for anyone that they might want to follow. There, Noujaim and Salama discovered both Samir Khader and Hassan Ibrahim, not only central characters to the film but also crucial to gaining the crew access into Al Jazeera. Noujaim explains, "We also met Hassan in the cafeteria over many cups of coffee and many cigarettes, and he was really the person that was responsible for getting us such amazing access to Al Jazeera. I think he was the first person that believed in what we were doing. And he went to the General Manager and said 'Look, I'll take of them. They won't get into the way. They'll just be following me around'" (Noujaim, Audio Commentary). Noujaim and Salama often recorded footage simultaneously, capturing multiple angles or locations for the same moment using the Sony DCR-VX2000 and Sony DSR-PD150 miniDV cameras. Despite having a small production, the lack of lighting or formal setup, granted extra flexibility, allowing Noujaim to follow the pace of the Al Jazeera newsroom and focus more on her subjects. Noujaim explains, “Sometimes it’s a good thing to walk around with a broomstick as a boom and your camera half broken. Y’know, look like a very low budget, non-threatening production, and be small” (Noujaim, Audio Commentary).
Special features 
The special features that accompany the DVD contain further interviews.
- In one, Hassan Ibrahim states his belief that Bush's actions are just as much terrorism as Bin Laden's, and that any use of violence is terrorism. The unidentified person speaking with Ibrahim retorts "So there is no such thing as terrorism?" Ibrahim goes on to refute the word "terrorism" as a term that is unjustly applied only to Arabs, and unthinkingly adopted by the US media and public.
- In another segment Deema Khatib states that her personal views do not colour what Al Jazeera presents, because "Al Jazeera just presents information". The film further notes that both the Bush administration and radical groups in Iraq (such as elements of Saddam's fallen regime) distrust and dislike Al Jazeera's information.
See also 
- Axis of Evil (film)
- Baghdad or Bust
- Kill the Messenger (film)
- My Country, My Country
- War Feels Like War
- Solomon, Deborah “Questions for Jehane Noujaim: Inside Al Jazeera.” (April 25, 2004) http://www.nytimes.com/2004/04/25/magazine/25QUESTIONS.html New York Times. Retrieved 2011-10-05
- Internet Movie Database "Control Room Box Office" http://www.imdb.com/ Retrieved 2011-11-29.
- Shiv Malik (2005-01-24). "Broadcast and be damned". The Independent. Archived from the original on 2005-03-06. Retrieved 2010-12-07.
- Clar Byrne (2003-04-09). "Iraq - the most dangerous war for journalists". The Guardian. Retrieved 2010-12-07.
- "Media incensed at journalist killings". BBC. 2003-04-09. Retrieved 2010-12-07.
- Robert Fisk (2005-10-26). "No wonder al-Jazeera was a target". The Independent. Retrieved 2010-12-07.
- http://www.unknownnews.org/0511291127Fisk.html[dead link]
- Noujaim, Jehane. Audio Commentary. Control Room. Dir. Jehane Noujaim. Perf. Hassan Ibrahim, Samir Khader, Josh Rushing. Magnolia Pictures, 2004.
- Twair, Pat McDonnell. “Control Room" Views War on Iraq Through Al-Jazeera's Lenses.” (September 2004) Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. Retrieved 2011-11-29