Al-Jazeera launched its new international English-language news channel on Wednesday. Here’s what the channel’s first six minutes on air looked like:
On Friday, the Lehrer NewsHour had a good report on the station’s launching. In that report, former Nightline reporter Dave Marash, who now works for Al-Jazeera, said that the new station would report the news “at the speed of thought” and cover issues with more depth than most 24-hour news stations. Other Al-Jazeera reporters and producers emphasized the span of its international coverage, and the fact that it will bring a non-Western perspective to news.
For all its faults and its anti-American bias, the Arabic version of Al-Jazeera has also done some positive things in the Arab world, by breaking the monopoly of state-controlled news, for example, and by covering heavily such events as the Iraqi elections and the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon. Many also credit it with exposing large Arab audiences for the first time to Jewish thinkers in debates about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
If Al-Jazeera in English brings greater coverage of international affairs, and covers such issues with real depth, as Marash claims it will, then perhaps it will be a positive addition to the media menu of English speakers around the world.
Beyond the opening six minutes above, we haven’t watched any of the station’s coverage (it’s available in the United States only on one satellite network, and to watch it on the Internet requires paying $5.99/month). However, if the the print reporting that’s available on the improved Al-Jazeera in English Web site is any indication of the depth and quality of the televised English-language fare, no one will be poorer for not having access to the new channel.
Certainly the breadth of the coverage on the site is laudable. However, much of it is superficial and, in some cases, displays not just a “non-Western perspective,” but an obvious bias in favor of any person or argument, no matter how odious or contemptible, whose exaltation would be seen as sticking it to the United States or its allies.
Still, this probably doesn’t tell us a great deal about what the English-language television reporting will be like. It will be interesting to see what Al-Jazeera in English adds to the worldwide media milieu.