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Friday, August 23, 2013

Al Jazeera: A Good Kind Of Un-Aamerican


August 22, 2013 3:10 pm

Al Jazeera: a good kind of un-American

Broadcaster’s US news channel provides a much-needed alternative view, writes Matthew Garrahan
Microphone with the logo of Al Jazeera©AFP
Iturned on my television the other night, flicked to the Al Jazeera America cable news channel, which launched this week, and for a few minutes thought I had been transported to another country.
I saw an in-depth report on inhumane conditions at a prison in Louisiana, with people interviewed given plenty of time to explain their arguments. It was followed by a panel discussion on David Miranda, the partner of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, who was recently detained for nine hours by police at Heathrow airport. There were no interruptions by the host on Al Jazeera America. No one raised their voice, and differences of opinion were expressed with civility. There was none of the hysteria that has become de rigueur in US cable news, the lengthy reports were measured and calm, and there were barely any commercial breaks. It was shocking.





Backed by the Qatari government, Al Jazeera has spent years trying to get a foothold in the world’s biggest media market. In January it paid $500m for Current TV – a liberal channel started by Al Gore, the former US vice-president, which had almost as many viewers as employees – and has transformed it into a 900-person operation with bureaux all over the world, promising a more internationalist take on the news than US viewers may be used to.
If the first few nights are anything to go by, the channel has already differentiated itself from its rivals. CNN, the former ratings leader that has trailed in the wake of Fox News for several years, has become increasingly tabloid, with a bigger focus on human interest stories. The network, which rose to prominence for its reporting on the first Gulf war, recently sent a battalion of reporters to the Gulf of Mexico to provide relentless, rolling coverage of a cruise ship floating adrift after an engine fire. Aside from overflowing toilets and irate passengers, there was not much to report, and the ship was eventually towed back to land. CNN was widely mocked by the likes of Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, who said the network had “treated a stalled cruise ship like it was the Shackleton expedition”.
CNN has tried various strategies and changes in tone to claw back ground against Fox News, which has proved there is a sizeable audience for news with a conservative slant.
Fox’s slogan is “fair and balanced”, yet it often strikes a confrontational tone with guests. Consider a recent interview with Reza Aslan, an academic and professor of religious studies, who happens to be Muslim. The interviewer, apparently convinced Professor Aslan had an anti-Christian agenda, kept pressing him about why he had written a book about the life of Jesus. “It’s like a Democrat writing a book about Reagan,” the interviewer said, without a hint of irony.
Despite this, or rather because of it, Fox’s formula is commercially successful. Chase Carey, the chief operating officer of 21st Century Fox, which owns the news channel, recently called it “a juggernaut” for the company (presumably because watching it for a sustained period is like being run over by a truck). The Fox effect can be measured in other ways. MSNBC, the voice of liberal cable news, has tried to mimic its rival from the other end of the political spectrum but has failed to replicate its ratings. Meanwhile, CNN will in September bring back its much maligned political debate show, Crossfire – a forum for Fox-style rage and political jousting – with a roster of argumentative hosts that includes failed presidential candidate Newt Gingrich.
So there would seem to be a gap in the market for Al Jazeera. This is particularly true on the west coast, which is neglected by CNN and Fox. This week, Al Jazeera aired live shows up to 10pm on the west coast; CNN stops its live transmission three hours earlier, while Fox stops two hours earlier, leaving viewers in Los Angeles and Seattle to watch evening repeats – a curious stance for channels that claim to be dedicated to news.
But it will not be plain sailing for Al Jazeera. It has already run into opposition from Glenn Beck, a former Fox host, who left the network to start his own online news operation, The Blaze. Mr Beck said this week that Al Jazeera had “always been anti-American” and would peddle Islamist “propaganda”.
I could not detect any Islamist propaganda in the news coverage I saw this week on the channel; it all seemed fairly anodyne to me. But then there is always the possibility that I missed it when I left the room to make a cup of tea.
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  1. Reportdoofenschmerz | August 23 11:00am | Permalink
    AL JAzeera was a bit of an independent voice at one time but now si simply a Qatar/Muslim Brotherhood propaganda arm. They will fail as this type of propaganda is not appealing to most Americans. It has an audience primarily among Mursi Supports, the Syrian rebels and other rubbish the planet would be best rid of.
  2. Reportrolling_stone | August 23 10:27am | Permalink
    interesting article. I am only familiar with AJ's coverage of the middle eastern affairs, and it is ridiculously biased and sometimes borderline unwatchable. but then - with the ME coverage they have a clear political agenda, which might not exist in the coverage of American news
  3. ReportLondonGuy | August 23 10:01am | Permalink
    It's what BBC World used to be, could be but will never be with the suits running that place now.
  4. ReportJulian D A Wiseman | August 23 9:05am | Permalink
    @ luctoretemergo
    > Please make sure to write a follow up review in a few months when, no doubt, the varnish of respectability will have faded.

    It might have been fairer to have said “Please make sure to write a follow up review in a few months to report on whether the respectability has faded.” Had you asked that, I would have agreed with you.
  5. ReportTr2ple | August 23 8:46am | Permalink
    Here is another tip watch EU news like DWTV and France24. US news are so biased as an European it is unwatchable! Even when I am in China and CNN is the only english channel I rather browse the restricted Chinese Internet than watching that ****.
  6. Report2904 | August 23 8:41am | Permalink
    I've tried Al Jazeera and found it balanced and informative - and yes, it does expose the nastier underbelly of American life that goes unreported over there.
  7. ReportKeithTunstall | August 23 8:32am | Permalink
    As the article says, Al Jazeera is unique in having in-depth discussions on issues - with several points of view expressed. It is against the take-over by the military in Egypt, but then who isn't? It is against the settlement policies of Israel - but then look closely at who isn't. It is against Asad in Syria, but then, like everyone else, it is unclear what practical alternative they support. Their biases are not right-wing and not irrational. It's refreshing.
  8. ReportJ_R | August 23 1:47am | Permalink
    Its nice to have some TV mews witch is not highly biased by ties to the current administration and the Democrats socialist ideas. Fox comes across too often as flaky and CBS lacks any credibility due to obvious bias just like the Washington Post commonly known as Pravda on the Potomac.
  9. ReportVSO | August 23 1:21am | Permalink
    "Klirhed" Here is some vinegar on your Acid test. Legitimate criticism of Israelis government actions by A J TV or the FT readers should not be equated to anti-American attitudes by hinting it in the same paragraph. We are under no obligation to cheer for your country.
  10. ReportFrancheska (Maya) Smith-Johnson | August 23 12:59am | Permalink
    If you are like me, curious to try Al Jazeera America after Mattew’s favorable comparative analysis and the supporting comments, but your TV cable provider – AT&T, Cox Communications, or Time Warner Cable in my case – surprisingly does not carry the channel, you can drop them a message with a friendly request to improve their offerings.


    Just type in your zip code and click REQUEST.
  11. ReportVSO | August 23 12:44am | Permalink
    Friendly to the US strategic interests, Quatar government owned TV station that was described by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as very efficient for its existential purposes is hardly un-American. The mission of Al Jazeera is to counteract radical Muslim extremism influences by giving more balanced world view to the primary audience, whom they target and that has never been the US cable viewers oriented organization. I find the comparison to Russia today comments void in substance.
  12. ReportVSO | August 22 11:52pm | Permalink
    Al Jazeera is very American. People just don't know it-:)
  13. ReportStargazer | August 22 11:45pm | Permalink
    IMO Al Jazeera English's reporting is generally very good, but I would be very careful with regards to their coverage of the Middle East as the channel is very much intertwined with the Qatari state, and there has been instances in which Al Jazeera staff have resigned due to alleged editorial bias - e.g. Dave Marash and more recently the 22 staffers in their Egyptian station. The Qatari state have been very open in their support of various armed factions during the Arab Spring and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.


    In the end there will always be bias in any news organisation, including the BBC (With funding from the FCO) so it's always better to periodically cross check the same news from different news organisations (like Der Spiegel and Russia Today) just to compare the different perspectives, and make up your own mind.
  14. ReportSvengelska | August 22 10:18pm | Permalink
    I've watched Al Jazeera/English for over teen years, it is refreshingly different, extraordinarily anti-Israel (see Al Nakbar), and definitely pro-arab, but at least one has an opposite view from the pro-Republican Fox News.
  15. Reportklirhed | August 22 10:04pm | Permalink
    The acid test is how this post treats Israel and I am not optimistic. Of course a majority of commenters here will say that Israel is an apartheid state and should be unmasked as such so I won't be surprised. At least the people with an anti-American agenda will have a wider diversity of views, not relying solely on Russia today.
  16. ReportSpeculator | August 22 9:30pm | Permalink
    @ Avianflu . You are spot on about absence of objective comment on the ME. But BBC and US channels do not have objective comments about West, Asia, Latin America or practically anywhere. There is a presumption that certain gut instincts are correct no matter the evidence.

    So I watch BBC for Middle East coverage and Al Jazeera for pretty much the rest of the world.
  17. ReportErick blair | August 22 9:05pm | Permalink
    Talk about TV news being dumbed the in the USA, the BBC UK takes the cake the type of reporting is a five minute slot about a pander bear in Edinburgh Zoo, As for the Syrian sectarian civil War, its reported as an economic insurrection against cruel greedy masters
  18. ReportJohn Schaffer | August 22 8:33pm | Permalink
    I got hooked on watching Al Jazeera on the Internet starting with the "Arab Spring" three years ago. It seems like a good return on some of that oil money that we have pumped over there.
  19. ReportManufacturing Executive | August 22 8:16pm | Permalink
    "Chase Carey, the chief operating officer of 21st Century Fox, which owns the news channel, recently called it “a juggernaut” for the company (presumably because watching it for a sustained period is like being run over by a truck)."

    It's difficult to be a reporter without injecting your own biases, eh? Shall we call you unfair and imbalanced then?
  20. Reportriskstrategies | August 22 6:05pm | Permalink
    The bias, if any, comes in its reporting of events in Syria. There seems to be a kind of Shia-Sunni difference in its reporting on Syria specifically and the Middle East generally..

    One worries that its editorial policy represents the views of its Qatari sponsors.
  21. ReportDanny263 | August 22 5:37pm | Permalink
    Many Americans are strongly prejudiced against anything Arab-related... I think that's going to be reflected in the tone of the comments!
  22. Reportluctoretemergo | August 22 4:32pm | Permalink

    Would you have given the same prima facia benefit of the doubt and written a positive review -as you do here for [absolutist Qatari and pro Brotherhood] Al Jazeera- to a network openly owned by say the Koch brothers or one of the big oil companies managed by, just to make the point, an openly devout Christian?

    I think I can guess the answer. Please make sure to write a follow up review in a few months when, no doubt, the varnish of respectability will have faded.
  23. ReportAvianflu | August 22 3:43pm | Permalink
    If Al Jazeera ever did an in-depth program on the politics, society or monarchy in its home state of Qatar or any of it GCC neighbors (apart sycophantically praising their leaders meetings) you could call it fair and balanced as a lot of its programming is excellent. However you never see anything meaningful on its home state: it is happy to report on anywhere in depth and critically except on Qatar and its immediate neighbors which it studiously avoids. As such and until it does it can never be considered unbiased.
  24. ReportBengt Larsson | August 22 3:37pm | Permalink
    "Fox’s slogan is “fair and balanced”, yet it often strikes a confrontational tone with guests."

    Oh come on. You don't give that "fair and balanced" slogan any credibility at all, do you?

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