I am obsessed with the news; I finally understand why our parents and grownups used to watch news those days. Remember? You'd be dying to watch some interesting stuff on TV and they would come and switch to something like CNN or 9 O'clock news on UTV. Local news is still lousy, except NTV's with Rosemary, she has mob steez. For those of you who don't know what steez are, it's the colloquial equivalent of style. It goes way beyond appearance and includes such things as demeanour, IQ, attitude and a host of other things. Anyway, I like her steez. Back to the point, I like news especially world news. For some reason I am that guy who is obsessed with what's going on out there. Perhaps it's because I have a vision of a future where all mankind is at peace and I like to know how we will get there. More importantly, I find that the news is a great source of inspiration. If you don't believe me, light up a joint and watch Al Jazeera. And that is why I am here today, to tell you about Al Jazeera, that it is, without a doubt, the best international news channel out there.
Most of us have grown up watching and reading news presented by the western media. We are accustomed to CNN, BBC, VOA, DW and the like. We have always had the western view of the world. This was made very clear to me recently when I told my friends that Al Jazeera is the best news channel. One of my friends asked whether it was the one owned by Osama bin Laden. I wasn't shocked because I had managed to consume every bit of info I could get about this news network. I learnt that during the early days of the war in Afghanistan, Al Jazeera was the only news network with reporters allowed behind enemy lines. Its journalists had been reporting from there for a while that they were the only ones trusted by some of the Taliban to report the news objectively. Graphic images of the impact of the US led invasion were availed to the world and understandably there was shock and uproar especially among the Arab nations. The US and its allies cried foul, they claimed that Al Jazeera was intentionally turning the Arab peoples against them by portraying them in a bad light. This wasn't helped by the fact that Al Jazeera was the first to air Bin Laden's famous interview after the 9/11 attacks. It was accused of being a mouthpiece for the Taliban and other Islamic extremists. The Bush administration and other western governments went to great lengths to discredit the news network, failing to see it for what it is; the first Arab news network free from government influence.
Al-Jazeera grew out of the termination of a contract in April 1996 between Rome-based, Saudi-owned Orbit Radio and Television Service and the Arabic TV division of BBC News Service. A disagreement between the Saudi Arabian kingdom and the BBC News Service concerning editorial independence led to the Saudi investors' abrupt withdrawal of financial support only twenty months after the deal was signed. It was reported that the Saudis pulled the plug following an argument over the broadcast of a special documentary about executions in Saudi Arabia.*
Al Jazeera executives solicited and acquired funding from Qatar's progressive emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani and then proceeded to recruit the now jobless BBC staff. These were people trained in the Western journalistic tradition with expert knowledge and understanding of Arab politics and audiences. Armed with the editorial spirit, freedom and style of the BBC, they set to work on building an independent and non partisan news network free from government scrutiny, control and manipulation.
Al Jazeera has since become the forum for political and social debate across the Middle East, angering virtually all Arab governments from Morocco to Syria. Many of them have recalled their ambassadors from Qatar in protest of unfavourable news coverage, demanding that the emir rein in the news network. The emir has maintained that Al Jazeera operates independent of government control, keeping the highest journalistic standards possible. These governments realising that network enjoys the highest popularity in the Middle East have attempted to court it for more favourable coverage.
Al Jazeera's mantra is "the point of view and the other point of view". The network believes in everyone having their say, even going as far as inviting Israeli officials to debate issues with their Arab counterparts, something previously considered taboo in the Arab world.
For me, Al Jazeera presents the view of an outsider looking at the west. It analyzes the values and impact of democracy presenting issues within Western borders that Western media would most probably not highlight. It analyses the impact of the West's foreign policy in all corners of the globe. Shows like "Faultlines" take a critical look at American society, highlighting instances where the government has gone wrong and could do better. "Witness" is another favourite of mine, a 30 minute special that highlights the plight of marginalised groups around the world such as black farmers in America or the Uighurs of Xinxiang province in China. There are tons of special reports that show you the world in a new light, especially the Middle East and without this independent voice, there are things that we would never have known. Like the alleged war crimes committed by Israeli in the recent "War on Gaza" because when the Israeli military started its campaign, all news networks were refused entry into the warzone and only those networks with staff already in Gaza could get accurate information. I particularly like "The Listening Post", a show that highlights areas around the world with the little or no press freedom.
I realise that I could go on and on, if I haven't already, but Al Jazeera rocks! I think Africa needs to come up with its own network news channel to address all these issues that we seem to keep having. Why should we wait for some foreign media to tell us that people are starving, that these diamonds and this oil will kill us all if we don't get our acts together? Why?
* Source: Al Jazeera – The Story of the Network by Mohammed El Nawawy and Adel Iskandar, Westview Press 2004