Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Al-Jazeera in English launched

Al Jazeera English went live today [Sky EPG 514]. The leading story on other networks was the Japanese earthquake and possible tsunami. As Al Jazeera English launched it led with a story about a Palestinian missile attack which killed an Israeli woman. “A Palestinian missile kills an Israeli woman, Israel vows revenge”. The story swiftly moved on to a report by veteran reporter David Chater - “The agony of Gaza” in a “disintegrating economy”. Their second report was the Japanese earthquake, but was dealt with only in brief. The third headline moved on to Darfur, Sudan, with a report from Andrew Simmons backed up with a live report from Haru Marasa. Then to a commercial break. Much of the break was filled with trailers for Al Jazeera’s own programming. The ‘bias’ becomes clear after twenty minutes viewing. One sting showed a comparison of nuclear weapons held by various countries ending with Iran and the US as a comparison. Another dealt with a comparison of CO2 emissions. Each 30 second sting ending with ‘Al-Jazeera - Setting the News Agenda’ [Fox News / Guardian]

After the break Ferai Zevenzo reported from Zimbabwe, a country which is suffering from massive inflation and unemployment. Pictures showed dozens waiting in line for petrol. Some had waited more than seven days. Describing Zimbabwe as “Inflation country”, Ferai reeled off a string of depressing statistics. Inflation was running at 1200%, 1 US dollar can buy 2000 Zimbabwe dollars. A country where there is 80% unemployment but where “5% are extremely wealthy”. Ending his report Ferai Zevenzo said many ordinary lives had not been improved. Al Jazeera is the first TV network to broadcast Live from Zimbabwe in several years. The next story dealt with the diplomatic issues surrounding Iran and the continuing turmoil in Iraq. Ex-BBC correspondent Rageh Omaar reported from Tehran, Iran's capital, and discussed new US/UK talks which have taken place over the last 24 hours. Other headlines were skirted over including a brief visit by President Bush to Moscow en-route to Indonesia and the possible re-initiation of 6 party talks with North Korea.
The ‘And finally story’ came from Beijing where illegal racers speed around the city ring roads. One racer completed Beijing’s 2nd ring road in little over 13 minutes, averaging 150 km/h. The man behind the wheel speaks of “the thrill of the speed on a racing circuit” but said it was “more exiting on the open road”. More than 100 cars hit China’s roads every day and it is a massive task for the police to control the traffic. They have little time nor resources to chase speeding motorists. What was not mentioned is the resulting accidents left in the wake of such activities. The half hour news broadcast ended with, “And that’s it for now, a weather update next”.

It has taken ten years since their launch in 1996 to get to the point of being a nearly global English speaking broadcaster. Nearly global, since at the last minute Variety reported that a deal between AJI and Comcast, one of America's biggest cable operators, fell through after AJI held out for nationwide coverage when Comcast wanted to make the channel tentatively available in Detroit, which houses a large Arab-American population. Their success in the news environment will depend on their impartiality and quality of coverage. Many might be surprised by some of their programming whilst others will be put off by their apparent bias. Most will only have seen the Arabic version of the channel [Wikipedia - Al Jazeera], which has incidently disappeared from the Sky EPG[ electronic programme guide].

No comments: