Through The Static

May 18, 2008

Al Jazeera English’s Expansion Effort

Filed under: Culture,Media,Technology,World News — disciplepete @ 6:08 pm

I am a huge fan of Al Jazeera English, as you can tell by many of my posts on here. The Al Jazeera English TV channel, however, is largely unavailable in the U.S., except on satellite (which is how I get it). Al Jazeera English is easily the best news channel I have ever seen; it actually has real NEWS, rather than 2 hour specials on Anna Nicole Smith’s death and other trivia, like American news channels. They have all kinds of cool shows, very few commercials, and their programs often have guests from the most opposite points of view debating things; for example, I remember seeing some show where they were discussing something about Pakistan I believe, and the guests invited to the show were a U.S. State Dept. official and a former official spokesman for the Taliban. Compare that to what you get on CNN; maybe 2 retired U.S. army generals with different opinions. Most importantly, they have the hottest anchorwoman on the planet, Ghida Fakhry. OMGZHOT.

Anyways, this NYT article talks about Al Jazeera English’s efforts to branch out and capture a larger market share. Also, it’s an open question as to why Al Jazeera English hasn’t been picked up by cable companies in the U.S…is it really about market considerations, or are they too scared to touch it, or what?

PARIS — The English-language offshoot of Al Jazeera, the Arabic television news network, is pushing for a “breakthrough” that would make the channel available to American TV viewers and help it move beyond a turbulent start-up phase, according to its new managing director, Tony Burman…

Al Jazeera English, which is part of the Al Jazeera Network, based in Qatar, also announced distribution agreements last week in markets as far-flung as Portugal, Ukraine and Vietnam, increasing its potential audience to 110 million homes. Conspicuously absent, however, was the United States, where Al Jazeera is still largely unavailable on television. Viewers can watch it on the Web through a deal with YouTube, the online video service.

In the United States, a market of 300 million people and hundreds of pay-television services, “the idea that certain channels would effectively be banned is medieval,” Mr. Burman said.

Al Jazeera English is not actually banned, but the reputation of its Arabic sibling as the preferred outlet for videos from Osama bin Laden has made the English-language version too hot to handle for some cable operators. A lack of space on crowded cable systems has also made it difficult for operators to offer Al Jazeera English.

There has been criticism that Al Jazeera is biased. I would agree; but isn’t all news reporting biased? After all, who decides what constitutes news, and from which perspective it will be told? I think the important question is whether or not what is being reported is true and presents the relevant facts involved. If the news is biased and presenting falsehoods (Fox News), then that’s a problem. Anyways, regarding the Al Jazeera bias issue:

Some critics say, however, that the tone of Al Jazeera English has been shifting away from the neutral, international approach it initially took. David Marash, an American journalist who left the channel in March, said at the time he saw signs of anti-Americanism creeping into the coverage as more of it was directed from Doha, Qatar, rather than its other news hubs, in Washington, London and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia…

…As Al Jazeera English pursues new audiences, Mr. Burman said there were characteristics of the Arabic Al Jazeera that were worth emulating. “It is fearless, bold and provocative,” he said. “I don’t think Al Jazeera English should shy away from that, without departing from the norms of credible journalism. Being unbiased doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t challenge authority, from whatever side.”



  1. As the US becomes further entrenched in the Middle East, I don’t know how much longer American media companies can ignore Al Jazeera. The station is a potential goldmine for not online cultural context but also American PR, and yet so much time is spent demonizing it and labeling it a terrorist organization.

    Comment by Simon Owens — May 19, 2008 @ 6:46 pm | Reply

  2. I wonder if certain lobbyists in Burlington keep pace with the dynamics of transnational media & audiences or prefer a heads-in-sand approach instead?

    The fact that (as the once Israeli Deputy Premier) Shimon Peres would visit the headquarters of Aljazeera News Channel in Doha in erly 2007 will not surprise observers of the region’s media scene. Peres also appeared in an special interview on the 24 hour news channel launched only in November 2006.
    Instead of making wrong choices and pursuing wrong approaches that are just goose-chasing and witch-hunting exercises US needs to befriend with the ones that capture and portray the facts professionally and far effectively. The fact that Peres made it a point to appear on the channel reflects the significance of reaching out to an audience genuinely interested for peace in the region. This leaves cynics on the wrong foot when it comes to the realities of the Middle East.

    It is an hour of reckoning for critics to come out from his age of denial, dismissal and disapproval of those he dislikes and differs with. Another factor that merits due consideration is what the viewers in Israel prefer to see. BBC World has been dropped by Israel’s satellite provider Yes TV in favor of the Al-Jazeera English. The Guardian, London dubbed it as ‘the first major distribution blow the corporation’s international news channel has suffered since al-Jazeera’s English-language service began broadcasting’. Although BBC World will still be available in Israel via cable, it will lose around 50% of its audience in the country as a result of being dropped by Yes. Al-Jazeera English signed the carriage deal with Yes in November 2006, but the damaging consequences for BBC World have only just emerged, remarked media commentator Tara Conlan. The true proof of responsible activism is in promoting and not preventing pluralistic viewpoints.

    Alternative and accountable media is what the global audiences deserve and watch groups should put their energies to ensure the availability of such options.

    Commentators, journalism teachers and media professional are increasingly questioning why the US media space remains in denial of alternate news channels offering a different perspective to American viewers.Will the American viewers realize what they have been missing out in terms of content richness, analytical depth and topics covered by Aljazeera English?

    Veteran TV journalist, Dave Marash, offered these comments in an article to Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

    “If it’s been “market forces” that have kept Al Jazeera/English from an American audience – fears that it would have no audience, or that it would be “terror TV” – it is time to readjust to reality. If it’s been political pressure that has kept Al Jazeera/English off America’s cable and satellite servers, it’s time to reject such literal “know-nothing-ism.”

    “I recently left Al Jazeera/English because of defects I saw in its attitude toward and coverage of the United States. But I still will watch regularly for its excellent coverage of Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Without it, I’d be blind to half the planet. Why would anyone want that? Why do we as a nation, as a viewing audience, permit it: television news that institutionalizes willful ignorance of the world?”

    Having now worked for both an American network and an Arab network, this is what Marash told to Newsweek’s Daniel Stone how he sees the difference in the coverage between the two:

    “I think that anyone who watches some of the in-depth shows [on Al Jazeera] will ask themselves, “Why doesn’t American news do stuff like this?” Because they slow down and take a real look at some serious, positive, negative and very characteristically American issues. Nowhere in American TV do you see those kinds of things being address very seriously… I’ll be a lifetime viewer. I think they’re a terrific network.”

    Comment by Jim — June 10, 2008 @ 5:38 am | Reply

  3. Thanks for that Jim. I think the U.S. political and financial establishment does take Al-Jazeera seriously, as is indicated by the establishment figures who make themselves available to be interviewed or in discussions from time to time, however I don’t think the powers that be in the U.S. want the U.S. public to become Al-Jazeera viewers. They might actually learn something.

    Comment by disciplepete — June 10, 2008 @ 7:19 pm | Reply

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