Zurawik: Al Jazeera America Doc Shows Channel’s Value

By Merrill Knox 

al-jazeera-america-carousel-largeIn his Baltimore Sun column this week, David Zurawik reviews Al Jazeera America’s upcoming documentary, “On the Frontlines With the Taliban.” Zurawik writes the documentary shows the value of the channel by “serving democracy in the best tradition of journalism,” noting that there’s more to say about Al Jazeera America than just its low ratings:

As opposed to much American network and cable reporting on the fighting in Afghanistan, which is told from within a compound or fort looking out, this film is told from within the ranks of the insurgents. It opens with the camera among a ragged group of Taliban soldiers as they attack an Afghanistan army post. The sound of drones and NATO warplanes is overhead.

The documentary defines reporting from the ground-up, versus top-down. Instead of talking to PR-prepped generals and government officials back in their safe offices, this film gets down in the dust of the battlefield and captures the foot soldiers in all their fervor, bluster, frustration, finger-pointing, hope and fear as they launch an attack and then see it go mostly wrong.

American audiences have been offered some excellent on-the-ground battlefield storytelling out of Afghanistan in “Restrepo,” the 2010 documentary by Sebastian Junger and the late Tim Hetherington. The filmmakers followed American troops on a 15-month deployment in the Korangel Valley and captured profoundly touching moments.

But this is the first time I’ve seen the war from the other side with this kind of immediacy and detail — and that is thanks largely to the nerve, skill and sense of mission of Nagieb Khaja, a Danish journalist with Afghan roots who embedded with the Taliban to make this film for Al Jazeera’s “Fault Lines” series.