QATAR: Al Jazeera to launch English channel today
Al Jazeera hopes to mirror news service like that of BBC and CNN, but with a Middle East perspective
Times of India
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
Doha --- Arabic television station Al Jazeera launches an English-speaking channel on Wednesday to report world news from a Middle East perspective and challenge the dominance of western media.
The station, which has angered Washington and some Arab governments with its reporting from Iraq, said it wanted to give a fresh voice to under-reported regions round the world.
"We are trying to expand our audience beyond the Arabic-speaking world, and enter the English-speaking world," said Wadah Khanfar, director general of the Al Jazeera Group.
"One of our goals is to reverse the flow of information to the south," he said, arguing that the Middle East and developing nations have until now not had a voice of their own.
In doing so the new channel mirrors projects in France, Russia and Africa that aim to give a regional perspective in English, the dominant global language, but offer little commercial reward to their owners.
"The model is the BBC's World Service," Steven Barnett, a professor of communications at the University of Westminster, said. "The Foreign Office didn't fund that out of generosity. It funded it because it was spreading the voice of Britain."It was not forcing propaganda down people's throats but it was still bringing to bear a perspective that was essentially British and spreading it around the world," he said.
The channel's Arabic sister service shook the Arab and western world when it launched in 1996.
After making its name in the Afghan war with exclusive footage of Osama bin Laden, the Qatar-based satellite channel drew fierce criticism for showing footage of dead US soldiers in Iraq and prisoners of war.
"The existing broadcasters do not provide what Al Jazeera is about to provide," said Sue Phillips, London Bureau chief.
"We want to push the boundaries, we want to cover parts of the world that are not covered by the other organisations, the unreported world, (and) ... we want to probe and ask those questions that perhaps others don't ask," she told Reuters.
The channel was to launch earlier this year but was delayed several times. Al Jazeera officials blamed technical problems, denying US media reports that right wing groups were pressing cable networks not to carry the channel in the United States.
Fresh Perspective: Moscow set up the state-funded "Russia Today" channel in 2005 to show news from a Russian perspective and a French 24-hour news channel is due to launch at the end of this year to offset the "unified, Anglo-Saxon" outlook.
A pan-African 24-hour news network, "A24", run by Africans for Africans to challenge the Western-dominated coverage of the continent is also in the planning stage with a view to launch by the end of 2007.
"Why shouldn't other countries, in an era of globalisation, do their best to make sure that their culture, language and way of life are more familiar," Barnett said.
The English-language Al Jazeera will broadcast via satellite from four centres in Kuala Lumpur, Doha, London and Washington.
It is funded by the Emir of Qatar, as is the Arabic channel
Peter Preston, former editor of Britain's Guardian newspaper, said it had become increasingly evident new voices with different opinions were needed on English-language networks as one all-encompassing 24-hour news channel was not enough.
"CNN can attempt to do that by running hugely different programmes ... to the rest of the world than it does in America.
The BBC can attempt to do it by a massive amount of fairness and balance in the traditional BBC way," he said.
"But actually what you see in the Middle East in the last 10 years is a feeling that the Middle East needs not just one but two of its own 24-hour channels that will tell something of the story of the region from a Middle East perspective."
Barnett said success should not be measured by ratings or advertising they attract but whether they become influential.
"If another situation develops where America wants to get involved in a foreign country like Iraq and tries to use the same propaganda methods, the existence of something like a French channel could be a factor," he said.
"If it is done properly ... it could be a real contribution to global diplomacy."
Date Posted: 11/14/2006