Viewpoint: Why al-Jazeera’s Entry into the U.S. Is a Good Thing

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Let’s get the cynicism out of the way first. Yes, the takeover of Al Gore’s Current TV by al-Jazeera, a pan-Arab broadcaster headquartered in and funded by the Qatari state, is unlikely to send tremors through the current American media landscape. The revamped al-Jazeera America channel — and, yes, it will actually be called that — will have a hard time winning its way into the American mainstream. Current TV, after all, is a fringe player with a small viewership. And some U.S. conservatives, like Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, remain convinced al-Jazeera is anti-American propaganda, a cipher for terrorist sympathizers and antiwar peaceniks. Others simply doubt the ability of an international news channel to spark interest in the U.S. Writing in the Guardian, American media critic Michael Wolff dismissed al-Jazeera English — the broadcaster’s international challenge to the BBC and CNN — as “so boring that there is no real reason to be hostile to it.”

But there are real reasons to welcome al-Jazeera’s $500 million entry into tens of millions of American households. The main one is that, contrary to what Wolff and O’Reilly think, al-Jazeera English (I’m in less of a position to judge its more controversial Arabic counterpart) is a very good news network. It’s sober, thoughtful and, flush with Qatar’s petrowealth, capable of devoting resources to stories other major news channels now eschew; few international networks cover Latin America and Africa, let alone the Middle East, with more authority and depth than al-Jazeera. Its journalists hail from some 50 countries, making it one of the most cosmopolitan enterprises in the news business. What Wolff deems “boring” has been praised by other prominent Americans as “real news.” Colin Powell apparently told Al Gore that it’s the only channel he watches. And here’s Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2011:

You may not agree with [al-Jazeera English], but you feel like you’re getting real news around the clock instead of a million commercials and, you know, arguments between talking heads, and the kind of stuff that we do on our news. Which, you know, is not particularly informative to us, let alone foreigners.

Yes, critics are right to point to the network’s paymaster — a government whose political agenda has, at times, directly influenced its coverage. The channel, for example, has been one of the most avid watchers of the Syrian conflict (Qatar is known to be arming and funding factions of the Syrian rebellion) but was relatively quiet about Arab Spring unrest in the nearby Kingdom of Bahrain, a close Gulf state ally of Doha. But mainstream American networks are also susceptible to external political pressures. And while al-Jazeera presents the news sometimes with a discernible bias, it lacks the partisan shrillness of channels glued to the Beltway like MSNBC and Fox News.

In 2011, as al-Jazeera received plaudits for its unmatched coverage of the Arab Spring, I spoke with Abderrahim Foukara, the network’s Washington bureau chief. He rejected the much-vaunted (largely American) notion of “objective” journalism and outlined what al-Jazeera English seeks to do instead:

It’s focused on all parts of the world and therefore it has an eye on all sorts of different audiences. That’s what gives it its unique identity. Of course, from one crisis to another you adjust the focus — but the idea is that you’re actually catering to all different parts of the world. There’s a belief that we live in a global village, but a global village where until very recently information came down from the global north to the south. But now you’ve a channel that tries to reverse that movement from the south to the north.

There’s also an awareness that we live in a world that is increasingly characterized by people’s wishes to live in free and democratic systems. The notion is that you have to focus on people’s grievances and aspirations — because these are the people who are watching you — and if those people themselves are increasingly imbued with a certain skepticism of government, well that has to reflect in a channel like al-Jazeera English.

It’s that impulse, combined with al-Jazeera’s terrific production values and recent record of award-winning documentary journalism, that could very well animate the nascent al-Jazeera America network. There’s cause to believe that al-Jazeera America may better speak to the demographics of the 21st century U.S — championing minorities, inner cities and youth issues. Americans hungry for a change from the usual may start tuning in.

Even if it never achieves top ratings in the U.S., al-Jazeera has in many senses already stolen a march on mainstream American competitors. For example, al-Jazeera English’s Washington-based social-media news show The Stream is the progenitor of other Internet broadcasts like HuffPost Live that may well become the norm in the decades to come. Yesterday, as detractors elsewhere bloviated over al-Jazeera’s mythical terrorist ties, The Stream hosted famous epistemologist Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan. The show’s anchors quizzed him on systems of governance and the political dysfunction behind the fiscal cliff with the help of myriad viewers who joined in via a Google+ Hangout or on Twitter. Questions came from a remote town in western Texas, New York City and many places in between. Al-Jazeera knows that there’s already an American audience for a serious news network that manages to be at once both local and global. And it also knows there’s no other major American news network capable of matching that feat.

25 comments
GarciaKenneth
GarciaKenneth

I have use trial service and I found 80% accuracy in commodity trading tips at www.devangvisaria.com/contact

jazzman71
jazzman71

Anything is better than Fox.

rainman97013
rainman97013

I started reading Al Jazeera English on the web at the start of the Arab Spring.  It is now part of my daily news cast along with time.com.  and the BBC on radio. I don't watch TV but I hope Al Jazeera continues its great internet coverage. The news is balanced, it has an international flavor, and they have good serious reporters.

EnticingHavoc
EnticingHavoc

I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it.
Voltaire

srajukanumuri
srajukanumuri

news - north , east , west and south  voice / communication of people . now news is  different it is for  money , control , propaganda , religion, caste ,creed based on investors,  countries, governments  requirements,

Cog
Cog

If you did not watch Al Jazeera from 2003-2005, then I do not think you are qualified to 1, report on why Al Jazeera English (segments on PBS, or on a dozen smaller select stations), or the rumored Al Jazeera America belong in the US, or 2, comment on others who are legitimately outraged at what aired on that network. For or against the Iraq war, Democrat or Republican Conservative or Liberal, what aired on that network was a disgrace. I appreciate the reporting and the viewpoints on AJE, but the record still needs to be corrected. Judging by this article, the record still needs to be opened and looked at.

I am not the go to source for what aired on Al Jazeera, but I was so shocked at what I saw that I saved a few dozen transcripts and articles for posterity just for this reason. A handful are being printed out and emailed to my congressional representative.

Jürgen_Hubert
Jürgen_Hubert like.author.displayName 1 Like

@Cog What precisely are you referring to? Can you link those stories?

sumitron_2k@hotmail.com
sumitron_2k@hotmail.com like.author.displayName 1 Like

Actually I have watched a lot of al jazeera news/documentaries and i must say that they are better than 99 % of american news channels which spew their own propaganda. Al Jazz might have their own agenda too but most documentaries give both sides equal say & unbiased and then does not put an american color to the news (democrat republic stuff). But yes when its reporting stuff related to arab world..those should be ignored or taken with a pinch of salt...

cristobal62
cristobal62

I don't need one more News channel. I have lost all respect for the media which has become completely biased, giving their own spin instead of just reporting facts. TV reporters have forgotten that it's not about them - it's about the story. TV journalism is now about entertainment with reporters on an ego trip for ratings --which incidentally is what Al Jazeera is claiming they are not. Oh the irony of Al Gore's selling out to an oil company. Money defeats noble principles - which is how the reporter in this article describes Al Jazeera -to quote-"is a very good news network. It’s sober, thoughtful and, flush with Qatar’s petro-wealth, capable of devoting resources to stories other major news channels now eschew. "Flush with Qatar's wealth is a lovely adjective for a news channel. 


EileenFleming
EileenFleming

"Everywhere except in America, the Palestinian narrative is well  known."-Rashid Khaladi said in 2008 in Jerusalem at a conference I attended to learn more about Nakba and you can learn lots too at the link at the end

"Not just Palestine, but Congress and the U.S. Media are under occupation too."-Mordechai Vanunu, Israel's Nuclear Whistle Blower notes during "30 Minutes with Vanunu" which you can view at YT- Part 1 here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kwdz6dLbfok

The Ongoing Nakba:

http://www.wearewideawake.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1112&Itemid=212

JMaytum
JMaytum like.author.displayName 1 Like

Good for them.  I may not agree with everything they say but I'll take as many viewpoints as I can.  Greatest respect from a Canadian but I think your T.V. news agencies are a joke in the United States.  Here comes the news to a disco beat (gag).  They wouldn't know what reportage meant if their lives depended on it.  Great article and thank you!

mrxexon
mrxexon

Were it not for Al Jazeera, we would have never known the horrors of Operation Cast Lead. Israel got caught with their pants down and the whole world saw it.

Despite their shakey beginnings, AJ is now a world class new organization on par with the big "corporate"networks who seem to be so hamstrung in reporting these days.

I welcome them to the American arena of information wars.


x

ScottPettit
ScottPettit

This is a joke right? Well, it's not the least bit funny!

TravellinBob
TravellinBob like.author.displayName 1 Like

@ScottPettit No, not a joke at all.  Honesty is the best policy and frankly you're more likely to get from non US organisations than  any US network.  No-one else, not even the BBC, does anything to genuinely to criticise or attempt to stem the Israeli atrocities against Palestinians.

AlbertEythorsson
AlbertEythorsson

Al Jazeera is the great non-white hope of tv journalism in my opinion. The only station really covering BOTH sides of the Iraq war and spends money like crazy to produce fantastic, if sometimes odd, documentaries about things you never see a word about anywhere else. Absolutely the best thing on the airwaves right now


tourgon
tourgon

The sad truth is that most if not all of our news sites are biased...if one wants an informed opinion one needs to follow all sites to determine the truth for oneself...

pianomanrsn01
pianomanrsn01

Al Jazeera's English web site is certainly much less biased than say Foxx's in it's presentation of the news.  Before you knee-jerk in unison with the iconoclasts on the right and the pro-Israeli lobby, take a look at it.  They often cover regional stories of interest that you will not see elsewhere and their treatment of most issues is balanced and reasoned.  You might get that from the BBC, but even MSNBC walks carefully when it opposes Israel's Gestopo tactics in Gaza and the West Bank and often won't be critical of Israel.  

Al Jazeera is the real deal when it comes to reporting news.  As long as it is run in a hands-off way by Qatar as it is now, I have no problems with another point of view. When it comes to news, a diversity of opinions is a positive thing. 

KountyKobbler
KountyKobbler

You are better off knowing what they think by what they say not what someone said they said  5th hand rumor is what gave the election to the Gov  Romney till the vote  showed exactly what the voters thought not some opinion of what some one else thought  in multiple errors of Karl Rove tossed cash cow.

j.villain1
j.villain1

Americans really need to hear ideas and opinions other than their own. The more voices to choose from the better. The more exposure Americans have to other cultures the less they will fear them. 

And I agree Al Jazeera  English is a heck of a good news channel.  

DrorBenAmi
DrorBenAmi

For some reason my comment was cut in the middle....Anyway, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that stories about Israel by the BBC out number the stories about all of Africa.

In conclusion, Al Jezzera may not like Israel, but at least they keep their hate in perspective to the news of the rest of the world, something which Time and the BBC do not........

DrorBenAmi
DrorBenAmi

Definetly yes ! Even though I am an Israeli, I appreciate tha Al Jezzera reports on ALL the news around the world and thus keeps news about Israel in perspective.

Time Magazine, by contrast, sometimes has four full time staff writers submitting stories about Israel in the same week, while totally ignoring stories about South America or Africa. For example, although I am a regular reader of Time, I never knew that Canadain backpackers are afraid to walk around South America with the Canadian flag sewn on their packs (apparently many Canadian mining companies are hated in South America, something Time Magazine chooses not to report).

Also, on google maps there is one called "religions of the world". Israel is represented by a small red spot in the middle, yet, somehow, news about this small red spot dominates the reporting of the BBC World Service. There is absolutel