As they say when the Olympics convene, “Let The Games Begin.” A new Olympics gets underway today, the news Olympics, as the anglo-American hegemony of the big news cartels has for the first time a challenger in the form of wellpackaged professional network. alJazeera international goes on the air globally (but not yet in the USA) to offer another perspective.
The Arabic language news channel that revolutionized news in the Arab World has just marked its tenth anniversary and become once again the world’s fifth top known brand.. alJazeera marks the occasion with the launch of channel in English (not just a translation of the original) with a sports channel, documentary channel and their own CSPAN type special events channel.
For now, the rest of the world will be watching but not the American people. Why, the heavily monopolized cable industry can’t find any room in their multi-channel universe for the new kid on the block. Is it political? In part, but beyond that broadcasters know how critical so many Americans are of the news goo on the air and might leap to an attractive alternation. Is it any surprise than the industry that keeps blathering on about free choice denies it to a foreign-based competitor even as the US networks long ago went global. While they condemn others blocking their signals, they shamelessly block others.
Time Magazine, part of Time Warner that also runs CNN, spoke with Wadah Kanfer, the journalist turned news executive running all of al Jazeera: Their piece is titled, what else, “The Al Jazeera Invasion.” Their website carries an ad for a show on Arab extremists by CNN’s hard right program host Glen Beck. This is a form of hidden hostility packaged as objective journalism:
TIME: What is the purpose of Al Jazeera English?
Wadah Khanfar: Al Jazeera is the only international network that is based in the developing world, and that will be the departure point for the English channel. I am not speaking about the geographical south, but the cultural, social and political south. The ‘south’ has not been presented in the international media properly. Why? Because most of the international media organizations are centered in the West. We would like to present a new model. We will take the south into consideration. We will cover the world, but will take the south as a departure point and a priority.
TIME: What does that mean?
Khanfar: When an international news organization covers a story in Somalia, Yemen, Sudan or wherever, they will fly a crew to go there, spend a few days, interact with some officials and analysts, most of the time English-speaking elite, and file the story and go home. At Al Jazeera, we are getting our local Somalis, Yemenis and Sudanese, local correspondents from within the society, who understand much better than the people who come from overseas. We will get a much better insightâ€¦.
There has been widespread fear and loathing of Al Jazeera often led by people who never watched it or couldn’t understand it if they could. A campaign of disinformation orchestrated by the Pentagon has sought to discredit the channel as “Terrorist TV.”
The alJazeera office in Kabul and Baghdad were bombed by US planes. An alJazeera journalist is being held at Guantanamo without charge. There were reports that President Bush and Tony Blair discussed bombing the station’s headquarters in Doha. Documents of their conversations have not been released.
Despite all this, alJazeera has hired an international team with many recognized and respected journalists including Dave Marash who worked for ABC’ Nightline for years. One of their biggest catches was Sir David Frost, the world famous interviewer. He told the Guardian that he was initially nervous about signing on:
“Sir David Frost has revealed how he investigated al-Jazeera’s credentials with his own high-level contacts in Whitehall and Washington before agreeing to sign up to its long-delayed English language channel, which launches today.
“In an interview in today’s G2, Sir David, who is scheduled to welcome Tony Blair as the first guest to his show on Friday, said he initially had qualms about signing for the broadcaster after trenchant criticism from the American right.
“So I deliberately checked out, with Whitehall and with Washington, that there were no links with al-Qaida, for instance, that sort of thing,” he said. “And it was not really a surprise that there were no such links, because Qatar, the proprietor of al-Jazeera, is also our most important ally in the Middle East.”
The Guardian newspaper did more than carry this interviews. They praised alJazeera in an editorial: “Just as British reports have their biases, as a new study on the Iraq war underlines, so al-Jazeera has its own. But by reporting inconvenient facts and airing diverse views, it has helped the Arab region. By offering a new slant, it will do good for the wider world too.”
Here in the USA, we need viewers to demand that Al Jazeera be shown the way an earlier generation of cable viewers supported the “I want my MTV” campaigns. It is important that Americans are exposed to other points of view and information missing in our media system because of media concentration and manipulation. Its time we were allowed to tune in the world.
Let’s give the new channel a chance while we fight for our freedom of choice.
News Dissector Danny Schechter edits Mediachannel.org. He has been interviewed on alJazeera and covered the channel’s Iraq war coverage in his film WMD. (wmdthefilm.com) Comments to [email protected]