News

Al Jazeera launches English-language broadcast

Miret el Naggar
McClatchy Newspapers

CAIRO, Egypt - After prolonged delays and an aggressive marketing campaign, the English version of the controversial Al Jazeera television channel finally debuted Wednesday with an ambitious message: "Global media has changed forever."

That sentence flashed across TV screens as an estimated 80 million viewers in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East got their first look at Al Jazeera International's foray into the competitive market for round-the-clock news.

But few American eyes got to witness the maiden broadcast. U.S. distributors are still too wary of association with a brand that's been criticized as "the terrorist channel," so it's available only for a fee via Internet services VDC (www.vdc.com) and Jump TV (www.jumptv.com).

For all the hoopla surrounding Al Jazeera International, known as AJI, many viewers found the broadcast subdued and straightforward. There were no grainy hostage videos or Osama bin Laden diatribes, the kind of reports that created the Arabic-language version's notoriety. The channel broadcast for only 12 hours Wednesday; it hopes to begin 24-hour broadcasting in January.

Viewers saw in-depth reports on subjects that ranged from a tsunami scare in Japan to the Darfur crisis in Sudan.

"It looks and feels very much like BBC and Sky News," said Lawrence Pintak, director of the Cairo-based Adham Center for Television Journalism, referring to two British satellite broadcasts. "The story selection and approach is very akin to the BBC, and the emphasis on Africa is definitely not similar to Al Jazeera. The real test will be how they'll cover a major story involving the Arab world."

Many media analysts have hailed Al Jazeera as the catalyst for an information revolution in the Islamic world, the first Arab-owned station to challenge the region's authoritarian governments as well as their Western allies.

Critics, however, charge that Al Jazeera demonizes the U.S. presence in Iraq and Afghanistan and whips up Arab anger with graphic footage of bleeding Palestinians or dead Lebanese children, for example.

Like the original channel, AJI is owned by the emir of Qatar, who allows the station independence that sets it apart from other satellite stations in the Middle East.

The startup of the English-language spinoff coincides with Al Jazeera's tenth anniversary on air, and the first broadcast paid homage to Al Jazeera journalists killed on the job. Footage showed the Al Jazeera offices in Kabul, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq, which had been bombed by U.S. forces.

"I'm happy to see an English channel with an Arab perspective," said Janet Sandle, who works at the American University in Cairo. "I thought it looked very professional. They had coverage of breaking news, although it was their launch. It had a full bulletin and a variety of good stories."

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict led the first newscast, with anchors reporting on an Israeli woman killed by a Palestinian rocket. They quickly juxtaposed that development with a reminder of the much higher toll of Palestinians killed by Israelis in the Gaza Strip. Next came the tsunami watch off the coast of Japan, the misery in refugee camps in Sudan, and then updates on Iraq, Zimbabwe, Iran and Russia.

"I like how they have in-depth reports. It's not just a short report attached with a couple of pictures," said Andrew Bossone, a writer for a business monthly in Cairo. "For a major satellite launch, I'm very impressed."

The bulk of programming will still come from headquarters in the Qatari capital of Doha, with the rest divided among broadcast centers in Washington, London and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

The new English-language broadcast employs about 800 people from more than 50 nations. The lineup includes news, analysis, documentaries, talk shows and a woman-focused program.

The channel recruited some big names in television: British television legend David Frost, Emmy-winning "Nightline" veteran David Marash, and Rageh Omaar, a Somali-born journalist famous in Britain for his Iraq reporting. British Prime Minister Tony Blair has agreed to be the first world leader interviewed by the network.

The months before the launch were marked with internal grumbling, with some Arab employees of the original Al Jazeera concerned that the new channel was hiring too many Westerners who would water down the distinctive brand. They also complained that their AJI colleagues were better paid and received more perks. AJI barred its journalists from speaking publicly about the dispute, but it issued statements saying it had formed a committee to bridge the cultural divide.

Nigel Parsons, the British managing director of AJI, has promised that the new channel isn't going to be simply a translation of the Arabic version. It will have original programming and separate staff and broadcast centers around the world.

"We are here to build on the heritage of Al Jazeera and bring their brand of fearless journalism to a much wider audience," Parsons told McClatchy Newspapers in an interview last spring.

___

ON THE WEB

Readers in the United States interested in viewing Al Jazeera International can go to VDC.com or JumpTV.com to access the broadcast. Both sites require payments.

___

(McClatchy correspondent Hannah Allam contributed to this report from Amman, Jordan.)

Music


Books


Film


Recent
Books

Cordelia Strube's 'Misconduct of the Heart' Palpitates with Dysfunction

Cordelia Strube's 11th novel, Misconduct of the Heart, depicts trauma survivors in a form that's compelling but difficult to digest.

Music

Reaching For the Vibe: Sonic Boom Fears for the Planet on 'All Things Being Equal'

Sonic Boom is Peter Kember, a veteran of 1980s indie space rockers Spacemen 3, as well as Spectrum, E.A.R., and a whole bunch of other fascinating stuff. On his first solo album in 30 years, he urges us all to take our foot off the gas pedal.

Film

Old British Films, Boring? Pshaw!

The passage of time tends to make old films more interesting, such as these seven films of the late '40s and '50s from British directors John Boulting, Carol Reed, David Lean, Anthony Kimmins, Charles Frend, Guy Hamilton, and Leslie Norman.

Music

Inventions' 'Continuous Portrait' Blurs the Grandiose and the Intimate

Explosions in the Sky and Eluvium side project, Inventions are best when they are navigating the distinction between modes in real-time on Continuous Portrait.

Music

Willie Jones Blends Country-Trap With Classic Banjo-Picking on "Trainwreck" (premiere)

Country artist Willie Jones' "Trainwreck" is an accessible summertime breakup tune that coolly meshes elements of the genre's past, present, and future.

Music

2011's 'A Different Compilation' and 2014 Album 'The Way' Are a Fitting Full Stop to Buzzcocks Past

In the conclusion of our survey of the post-reformation career of Buzzcocks, PopMatters looks at the final two discs of Cherry Red Records' comprehensive retrospective box-set.

Music

Elysia Crampton Creates an Unsettlingly Immersive Experience with ​'Ocorara 2010'

On Ocorara 2010, producer Elysia Crampton blends deeply meditative drones with "misreadings" of Latinx poets such as Jaime Saenz and Juan Roman Jimenez

Music

Indie Folk's Mt. Joy Believe That Love Will 'Rearrange Us'

Through vibrant imagery and inventive musicality, Rearrange Us showcases Americana band Mt. Joy's growth as individuals and musicians.

Music

"Without Us? There's No Music": An Interview With Raul Midón

Raul Midón discusses the fate of the art in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. "This is going to shake things up in ways that could be very positive. Especially for artists," he says.

Music

The Fall Go Transatlantic with 'Reformation! Post-TLC'

The Fall's Reformation! Post-TLC, originally released in 2007, teams Mark E. Smith with an almost all-American band, who he subsequently fired after a few months, leaving just one record and a few questions behind.

Film

Masaki Kobayashi's 'Kwaidan' Horror Films Are Horrifically Beautiful

The four haunting tales of Masaki Kobayashi's Kwaidan are human and relatable, as well as impressive at a formal and a technical level.

Film

The Top 10 Thought-Provoking Science Fiction Films

Serious science fiction often takes a backseat to the more pulpy, crowdpleasing genre entries. Here are 10 titles far better than any "dogfight in space" adventure.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.