Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Jazeera, Al-Jazeera

The channel brings another perspective on news which is both important and interesting

It is unfortunate that Al Jazeera English is not available as a channel in India. Although the existing news channels cover important international events and international news that relate directly to India, we miss out on analyses from an atypical point of view. Media are critical to understanding the internal mindset of different nations and people, which is impossible unless we have a broad spectrum of perspectives made available to us.

Since 9/11, the Arabic avatar of the channel has consistently ruffled the feathers of the American establishment. Al Jazeera’s alleged link to Osama bin Laden and its propensity to make ‘martyrs’ of suicide-bombers are just some of the controversial reasons which helped the channel emerge as an internationally recognised brand. The launch of its international channel, now globally available from the Middle East and Africa to Asia and Europe is a landmark event, because it has given the channel a footprint that is comparable with that of the BBC and CNN. Although it is banned in the US, it has managed to gain some acceptability in western circles by employing some well-known BBC and Sky News names, like David Frost and Riz Khan at its London headquarters.

Reviews of its initial programming were mixed. Some critics felt that it consistently chose to ignore developments in the West — like John McCain’s decision to enter the US presidential race. It focused instead on issues of concern to Africa and the Middle East — elections in the Congo, tribal welfare in Brazil, or the use of fairness creams in Africa!

And that is precisely the point. Al Jazeera’s focus is to offer viewers ‘all the news from all the angles’. The channel makes the point that to recognise what makes a nation tick, it is imperative to understand developments that are central to its life. In the Congo, for example, John McCain’s decision to enter the US presidential race is certainly not news. He doesn’t matter to people there, unless he wins.

Because Al Jazeera has multiple broadcast studios located around the world, its news menu alters from region to region: from Doha to Kuala Lumpur to Washington to London. The idea, of course, is that news in one part of the world does not have the same significance elsewhere.

As the global village becomes smaller, it is imperative to have a bird’s eye view of it; one that allows us to zoom in and to really listen in on what is going on. How well Al Jazeera’s experiment will pan out is yet to be determined. But one thing is sure — it should not be dismissed.

India should watch Al Jazeera more closely. It is now being increasingly understood that the only sound that is louder than a nation’s pulse is the pulse of an alternate world view.


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