April 28, 2005

Is Aljazeera coming to a TV near you?

The answer is 'Yes,' with a number of articles we've seen confirming the longstanding rumor: the Arab broadcaster will soon be launching a worldwide Aljazeera news service in English.

Since it went on the air at the end of 1996, Aljazeera has had a tremendous impact on the Arab world. With roots in the BBC's defunct Middle East service, the station's independent and relatively balanced approach to the news immediately set it apart from other broadcasters in the region, most of which are tightly controlled by their governments. For many Arabs, Aljazeera brought them their first taste of 'real' and uncensored news.


Aljazeera has also made enemies. Its coverage of the Palestinian struggle has pissed off Israel's government to no end. And, before and during the invasion of Iraq, Aljazeera had the distinction of being banned and/or harassed by both the Saddam Hussein regime and by the 'coaliton' occupation force. Aljazeera's journalists have come under fire in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and several of them have been killed on the job.

While Arab speakers have had access to Aljazeera in much of the world for some time now, English speakers have only been able to read Aljazeera's website. As Danny Schechter explains, however, the broadcaster will be extending its reach very soon:

[The] big news — and the buried lead in this article — is that Al-Jazeera is going global, launching an international channel in English that plans to be on the air in 2006. Its goal is nothing less than to "revolutionize viewer choice." It is a bold challenge to western TV hegemony.

This is good news for the vast audiences defecting from network and cable news for its tepid and celebrified and sanitized coverage. Al-Jazeera promises a fresh approach with news features and analysis that it insists will be "accurate, impartial and objective." It will show hard-hitting documentaries, air live debates from bases in Doha, Washington, London and Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian capital.

It has assembled a team of TV pros from BBC, APTN, ITV, CNN and CNBC, among others, and will have 40 bureaus worldwide.

"Al-Jazeera International is a World Channel for the 21st Century and it is the channel the world is waiting for," according to its idealistic proclamation. Its programmers are already buying up documentaries and seem to relish having a go at the news companies they have departed, at least according to a spirited conversation I had with programming director Paul Gibbs, who worked with BBC and the Discovery Channel. I was very impressed with the multinational members of the corporate strategy team that are gearing up a sophisticated approach to build a new, more global Al-Jazeera.

The conservative news world will be waiting and watching, and so will alternative media channels like Link Television or the new International World Television channel, which hope to do something similar.

Unlike the alternative media groups, Al-Jazeera does not seem to be lacking in money.

But challenges remain: Can they get carriage for their channel on cable and satellite systems controlled by Western media cartels? Getting their signal up is far easier than bringing it down into people's homes.

More importantly, can the Al-Jazeera approach, which has been associated with controversy and terrorism, find a receptive audience among viewers who have never really seen its news product (and couldn't understand it if they did), but have been prejudiced against it all the same? Will they/we tune it in and give it a chance?

It's always hard to be the last kid on the block but these kids (a) are not such kids; (b) have a lot to say; and (c) know how to say it.

There's more on Aljazeera's expansion plans here at Salon.

Aljazeera's English-language news site is here.

Posted by Magpie at April 28, 2005 10:21 AM | Media | Technorati links |

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Posted by: bassel madi at May 15, 2005 02:25 PM