Al Jazeera

Posted: February 23, 2008 in media
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120px-aljazeerasvg.pngMy good mate Harry today sent a link to a new TV live station project, very intuitively called LiveStation, who is currently running an invite-only trial. They don’t have many channels yet (5 news channels), but I was finally enticed to do what I’ve been wanting to for quite a while now: to watch award winning Al Jazeera (in English) – more out of curiosity then with a particular agenda. What I saw though impressed me so much that I stayed with them for more than two hours and then decided to return regularly.

Al Jazeera (meaning “The Island”, referring to the Arabian Peninsula) is a television network headquartered in Doha, Qatar. Initially launched as an Arabic news and current affairs satellite TV channel with the same name, Al Jazeera has since expanded into a network with several outlets, including the Internet and specialty TV channels in multiple languages, and in several regions of the world. The original Al Jazeera channel’s willingness to broadcast dissenting views, including call-in shows, created controversies in Persian Gulf States. The station gained worldwide attention following the September 11, 2001 attacks, for example with its semi-regular broadcast video statements by Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders or for having its journalists and its Iraq office being attacked by the US army (for more information on Al Jazeera see Wikipedia).

Al Jazeera certainly is a mainstream news and current affairs channel and therefore lacking programs that provide in-depth analysis or a reporting style that presents events in a systemic context. Nevertheless, what I found refreshing so far (and I’ll keep an eye on whether I can maintain this first impression) was that it still provided lots of information to critically think about what happens in the political, social, economic and cultural environments we all are part of. Unlike the Western mainstream media I am aware of, it doesn’t refrain from providing controversial information (e.g. Al Qaeda tapes) and it seems to aim at supplying its viewers with a range of different angles to look at global events.

An example I was able to watch today was its reporting on the US pre-election campaigns. While presenting the news on the three campaigners still in the contest in a similar fashion I am used to from our evening news programs, it complemented those information bits with a 25 minute special report called ‘Frontline USA’ (a service it will keep up until the US election). The idea is to look behind the glamour, the spin and the millions spent by the candidates and visit those forgotten communities who live at the frontlines of poverty, violence, race, the politics of fear and failed health and education systems. Al Jazeera talks to the people living in those disadvantaged communities and to the activists that are their voice and desperate agents for change. It shows another face of America, one that our mainstream media by and large doesn’t bother with, and it asks where these people are represented in the agendas of McCain, Obama or Clinton (especially after Edwards bowed out).

Cynics might say that this approach by Al Jazeera is not surprising given that it is an Arabic organisation that on top has been victimised by the US – cheap shot. I saw an interview with a representative of Muqtada al-Sadr on his decision to extend the current truce the Madhi Army is observing, and Al Jazzera showed the same critical attitude towards him. Adding to these experiences other programs I watched, I am getting the impression that this news organisation sees its purpose in providing as much information as possible – to allow viewers to create their own ‘well-informed’ views and opinions, which if true would represent a truly alternative approach to the one I have become used to from watching the Australian ABC or SBS news programs. So: I’ll keep watching with with interest.

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