America needs Al Jazeera English

I’m writing to highlight two excellent articles published this month about the international television news network based in Qatar:

Al Jazeera English ought to be included in all U.S. and Canadian cable and satellite TV packages. The reason why is summed up by veteran CBC journalist Tony Burman, managing director of AJE:

“The mainstream American networks have cut their bureaus to the bone,” says Burman. “They’re basically only in London now. Even CNN has pulled back. I remember in the ’80s when I covered these events, there would be a truckload of American journalists and crews and editors, and now Al Jazeera outnumbers them all.” The channel plans to open ten new bureaus in the coming year, including one in Canada. “At the risk of sounding incredibly self serving,” Burman says, “that’s where, in the absence of alternatives, Al Jazeera English can fill a vacuum, simply because we’re going in the opposite direction.” (Campbell)

Some North American commentators narrowly characterize Al Jazeera as a network of terrorists. If you know someone who ignorantly subscribes to that view, chances are he or she has never even seen AJE. If you want to see the caliber of AJE’s journalism for yourself, in the second paragraph of his essay, Kaplan has linked several excellent reports from AJE, which you can watch on YouTube.

Al Jazeera is also endearing because it exudes hustle. It constantly gets scoops. It has had gritty, hands-on coverage across the greater Middle East, from Gaza to Beirut to Iraq, that other channels haven’t matched. Its camera crew, for example, was the first to beam pictures from Mingora, the main town of Swat, enabling Al Jazeera to confirm that the Pakistani military had, in fact, prevailed there over the Taliban. (Kaplan)

Journalists who believe in journalism ought to get behind a campaign to bring AJE to Americans. It might go a long way toward counteracting the hate and misinformation generated by many of today’s so-called news programs on TV.

While we rightly lament the decline and fall of journalism institutions on this continent, we should also celebrate and support the good work being done — in some very dangerous places — by our colleagues working for AJE around the world.

5 Comments on “America needs Al Jazeera English

  1. Pingback: Network News….Love it, hate it « News Breaking…Fast

  2. When I was in Dubai this Summer I got to compare Al-Jazeera side-by-side with CNN and the BBC. On story after story, they gave the most complete picture of what was happening, and had their reporters closest to the action.

    The BBC made a big to-do out of its coverage of India’s election, but after interviewing CEOs and shopping mall patrons, they were stunned by Congress Party’s landslide. Al-Jazeera’s reporters talked to everybody, and they called a Congress victory while their Western counterparts still thought it was close.

    They also broadcast forums where Islamic scholars across the doctrinal spectrum debated issues like Women’s rights and got grilled by a crowd of Muslim women, as well as in-depth documentaries on the California budget crisis and a weekly look inside Iraq, which every other outlet has abandoned. A half-hour of Riz Khan was the only talking-head opinion show. I had forgotten such depth and variety were even possible for TV news.

    I was inspired to visit their headquarters in Doha. They have a hall honoring all their reporters killed in action – covering the Gaza Strip when nobody else could, filming Fallujah after the Western media cleared out. They don’t just exude hustle, as Kaplan says, but also courage.

    I could go on and on. Suffice to say, I enthusiastically agree with this post.

  3. I haven’t seen enough AJE to be able to judge its output properly, but what I have seen is closest to what I aspired to when I was a TV journalist myself, and later as a journalism trainer: intelligent, balanced, engaging, human, inquiring, explanatory… in other words, so much that today’s TV is not.

  4. Omar, thanks for the link. I downloaded the Livestation player the day after the Iran elections so I could watch AJE’s coverage — because CNN America totally ignored the whole story!

    People outside the U.S. do not realize that the stories they get to watch on CNN International are often never shown at all in the U.S. We have a horrible domestic version of CNN that is nothing like the international versions.

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