a young pakistani doctor blogs...
Friday, November 17, 2006
  Al Jazeera International: First Impressions.

Al Jazeera has come out with a 24 hour English language news service. I remember reading about Al Jazeera planning to roll out such a service a couple of years ago, but was disappointed to hear nothing more on the subject in the year that followed. As it turned out, the English version of the station had hit quite a few technical snags along the way. I guess they were overly optimistic in predicting the channel would roll out in 2005.

I had a very suspicious view of Al Jazeera a few years ago, and like most, associated it as Bin Laden’s mouthpiece. That, coupled with the fact that if came out of some small country in the Arab peninsula suggested it was nothing more than government sponsored anti-American drivel. The channel properly came into my attention when I heard about Bush’s “joke” about bombing Al-Jazeera a couple of years ago. I read up on it, and then found a blog of an Al Jazeera staffer and learnt to my surprise that it seemed like a very progressive effort, with particular attention being paid to eliminate as much bias as is humanly possible from their stories. I also read up on Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, the Emir of Qatar and patron-founder of Al-Jazeera. I saw he was a genuine modernizer and founded Al Jazeera with a vision of an unhindered, unbiased Arab news source. Gradually Al Jazeera seemed to turn into the “good guys” in my mind.

So I was very curious to see the kind of fare they would offer in the English version of their service. I had read that Al Jazeera offered a people-centric approach to the news. Rather than going to diplomats and government spokesmen for their news, they went directly to the people on the ground. I didn’t really get this concept until I saw their broadcast today. There were two in-depth stories of life in Darfur - one of a UNICEF aid worker in the region, and another of a bright 13 year old girl whose had not seen her parents for months, but still studied in the rudimentary school at the refugee camp and wanted to grow up and be a doctor. Then there was a program called Witness hosted by Ragieh Omar, who visited the town of Dewsbury in England where one of the suicide bombers of the 7/11 attacks in London came from. He interviews many residents of the town, comparing the perceptions that the media has assumed about the place to ground realities and presented a convincing thesis that in the town, where a third of the population are Muslims, there are no religious or ethnic tensions between the Muslims and the non-Muslim population, and that far and away their biggest problem is rampant unemployment (40%), and drug addiction. The local population expressed their frustration that politicians choose to use the town to score political points and sound bites while their economic troubles were completely ignored.

There was also a long interview on a group called Combatants for Peace, a group headed by a former Israeli military pilot, and a former Palestinian Fatah activist (who spent 10 years in jail) who were promoting a non-violent approach to the resolution of the Palestinian crisis. Then Harold Pinter came on, much to my delight, and voiced the strongest condemnation of American policies that I have ever heard on a news service. I had my mouth open in surprise over how strenuous he was. Throughout the day I noticed there were no ‘bubble-gum’ news stories to ‘lighten’ things up. No news on Britney Spears’ divorce or the new James Bond film, thank you very much.

I had a positive first impression from what I saw but it will be months before the channel forges a definitive identity for itself and the final verdict comes in as to whether this turns out to be a truly unbiased, honest news service, or just the Arabian answer to CNN.

 
Comments:
man i was so looking forward to this. which satellite have they opted for finally. i hope so hope that it is asia sat3.
i did read the blog and found it to be very interesting myself.
but someone told me that the channel itself hs shifted hands and is now an american property. any updates on that?
 
No, it's not American property. The people behind the original Al-Jazeera (the Arabic one) set up and run the English version up as well. I don't know which satallite they've decided to run on, but it came here in Islamabad on the first day of broadcast.

Also, all the major American cable networks are refusing to carry it, so for now at least, it is not availabe in the US. People in the US can still watch the live feed from the Al-Jazeera website on the net.
 
http://english.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/91EEF363-FE1D-4EB9-A7D9-EF3701E39A3B.htm

It lists the cable and satellite providers around the world from which one can access the English version of Al Jazeera.

(Oh, and drpak, I posted this on the Hudood law post accidentally - you can delete that...)
 
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Recent med school graduate from Peshawar, Pakistan. Started blogging when in throes of final year exams. Currently studying for USMLE Step 1. Aiming for the 2008 Match. I blog about my studies, my worries, and my thoughts on life. I live in Islamabad.

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Aya's Randomness
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Crow's Nest
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