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
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
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.