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WHO'S IN CHARGE HERE?
Magpie is a former journalist, attempted historian [No, you can't ask how her thesis is going], and full-time corvid of the lesbian persuasion. She keeps herself in birdseed by writing those bad computer manuals that you toss out without bothering to read them. She also blogs too much when she's not on deadline, both here and at Pacific Views.

Magpie roosts in Portland, Oregon, where she annoys her housemates (as well as her cats Medea, Whiskers, and Jane Doe) by attempting to play Irish music on the fiddle and concertina.

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Thursday, April 27, 2006

Aljazeera's new channel not ready for primetime.

I've been one of those who's been anxiously waiting to get a look at Aljazeera International, the new English-language news channel from the well-known Arab satellite broadcaster. It was supposed to be going on the air sometime in the next few weeks, but the latest news is that the debut is being delayed at least until sometime in the summer.
Ajazeera logoSome of the reason for the delay is technical. Aljazeera International's broadcasts will be originating from studios in Doha, Kuala Lumpur, London, and Washington and will have correspondents in 30 countries. Obviously, setting up this kind of operation isn't the easiest task in the world. Another reason for the delay is problems getting onto the air in North America. So far, Aljazeera hasn't been able to find a distributor willing to carry their channel.

But, says journalist and media analyst Lawrence Pintak, internal disputes at Aljazeera are playing a big role in the delay. Those disputes center on the new channel's content — especially on how its news coverage will differ from established channels such as the BBC and CNN — and on who exactly will be staffing Aljazeera Internationl.

Interviews with staffers reveal two core concerns about the new channel. First is the question of credibility. Given the Bush administration's dislike of al-Jazeera, the new English version will be under a microscope, with the station's critics waiting to pounce. The fear among al-Jazeera staffers is that, in its eagerness to make its own mark, the new channel will make journalistic mistakes, which will reflect poorly on the Arabic channel.

Second, al-Jazeera has earned a reputation for defending the Arab cause and standing up to both the U.S. and authoritarian Arab regimes. AJI is unlikely to maintain such a stance. "Many are afraid it will not reflect the honest channel these people have sacrificed for," one staffer told me.

Feeding the disquiet is the fact that Parsons, a British television veteran who has been involved in two other satellite channel startups, talks of bringing a "global" perspective to the news, with studios in London, Doha, Kuala Lumpur and Washington, D.C. each anchoring part of the day. "We're an Arab channel," says one al-Jazeera reporter. "We're supposed to bring an Arab perspective to the news, not a 'global' perspective."

Back in the fall, Parsons proudly told me that the staff would ultimately be made up of journalists from more than thirty countries. In the months since, the perception has grown in Arab media circles that AJI is simply not interested in hiring more than a few token Arabs. Along with Parsons, the top news and current affairs executives and all the bureau chiefs come from Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the U.S. On-air personalities like British talk show host David Frost, CNN's Riz Khan and Dave Marash of ABC News were signed to much fanfare. And while hiring decisions in any business are rarely transparent and sour grapes among those who are turned down is common, some very qualified, English-speaking Arab journalists who applied to the new channel told me they were, essentially, shown the door.

Disquiet boiled over into open anger during an al-Jazeera forum on media freedom in January. At a news conference to showcase the new channel, Parsons was asked about the deaths of al-Jazeera staffers and other Arab journalists at the hands of U.S. troops in Iraq. The British manager replied that they were "regrettable," but stopped short of condemning them or the imprisonment of other al-Jazeera employees in Spain and Guantánamo Bay. Arab staffers were enraged. To them, it smacked of appeasement -- and a sign of things to come.

Via CJR Daily.

| | Posted by Magpie at 10:41 AM | Get permalink




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