Saturday, September 4, 2004

Al Jazeera to launch English-language channel

intriguing news:

The Arab satellite station Al-Jazeera, denounced and bombed by the US and banned by the Iraqi government, has begun recruiting staff for a channel in English that will show news and documentaries.

"The brief is emphatically not to do an English translation of the Arabic channel," said Nigel Parsons, the project manager. "It will have international appeal and fill a lot of gaps in existing output."

The original Arabic news channel, established in 1996 and funded by the emir of Qatar, not only bucked the trend towards frivolity and light entertainment but broke many taboos, interviewing Israeli politicians and allowing debate of a kind rarely seen on Arab television.


The English channel's target audience is worldwide - "not just Muslims who don't speak Arabic", Mr Parsons said. "I think we might have a ready audience there, but it is not going to be an anti-western or anti-American channel. Absolutely not."

The aim will be to fill a gap in the market vacated by other channels.

"If you take CNN, in the [United] States, they have been dragged to the right by Fox. Internationally, they definitely had a bad war in the Gulf. They have lost some credibility on the international stage.

"Where the BBC would come into the equation is that there has been a definite retreat ... on the news channels. Levels of coverage of the developing world are 40% of what they were when Michael Buerk first did the Ethiopian famine."

Surely Al-J can never silence its critics with regard to bias. Given that scrupulously fair news organizations like NPR get hammered by left and right alike, and that Fox news is passionately defended as a bastion of objectivity by its fans, I think that arguing about bias is a fools' errand.

What is more important is that al-J provides an authentically independent voice - free of control from either the Arab regimes or the Bush Administration, both of whom hate al-J for essentially the same reason. The ideal of free speech is served well by a media that is accountable to none and that is aggressive about airing all points of view.

Keep in mind that in addition to airing bin Laden's rants, they also provided more hours of convention coverage (both DNC and RNC) than all the domestic channels combined. The audiences of Al-Jazeera are getting both sides indeed - and I think that our side, not bin Laden's, fares better in the comparison.

Al-Jazeera will be an element in the eventual reclamation of true political liberty in the Middle East. The authentic, hard-fought, springs-from-within kind.

I've previously blogged on Al-Jazeera, in a series examining how the channel has been systematically targeted for silencing here in the US, from DNS attacks on its website to being banned from the NYSE (one, two, three). The trend continued at the Democratic convention, where al-J was forbidden to show its logo on its skybox (unlike other media outlets). The RNC, however, had no problem. Kudos to the RNC, and shame on the Democrats.


  1. Don't they always refer to suicide bombers as martyrs?

  2. My only concern would be how they're going to handle the televised sermons of Sheikh Yousef al-Qaradawi now that he has called for the killing of Americian civilians as well as soldiers in Iraq.

    There is a great deal of discussion that can be had over various types of media outlets and their editorial slants or lack thereof, but at the same time I think that al-Qaradawi's sermons pose a somewhat unique problem to getting the full al-Jazeera experience in English if that's what the network is planning to broadcast.