Posted on September 21, 2009
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:
- Why I Love Al Jazeera, by Robert D. Kaplan (The Atlantic)
- The Most Hated Name in News: Can Al Jazeera English cure what ails North American journalism? by Deborah Campbell (The Walrus)
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.