Diwate: Al Jazeera a better source of news than many American media outlets


Photo courtesy of Paul Keller/Flickr

Al Jazeera is a foreign media network that has been scrutinized for being an anti-American voice of terrorism. Criticism has surrounded the network as it attempts to enter the American media scene.

Varad Diwate

Anti-American, Islamic-funded propaganda. A voice for terrorists.

This was more or less the tone of criticism directed toward Al Jazeera. Though these descriptions seem prejudiced, I would call the judgement on Al Jazeera to be misinformed at best.

The sale of Current TV, owned by Al Gore, to Al Jazeera was one of the big media stories at the beginning of this year. The sale triggered unexpected — or perhaps expected — responses by the news media in America. The Arab news channel has been trying to enter American media for a long time, as only a few cable operators are currently carrying the channel.

The only valid criticism against the sale, I feel, is that Gore, a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for climate change activism, sold Current TV to an entity that gets most of its money from fossil fuels.

Other than that, I find most of the arguments against the entry of this channel to be exaggerated in their premises. One of the most prominent arguments is the entry of a foreign government-owned news channel. Al Jazeera is owned by the Kingdom of Qatar. However, if we are to talk about foreign-funded media, even BBC and RT fall in the same domain. Talking about the owner of this network, the Kingdom of Qatar is a major ally of the United States in the Middle East as it houses a major air field base there. The owner seems to be quite anti-American, right?

Another concern is that Al Jazeera, presumed to be an “anti-American propaganda” machine, will somehow “pollute” American minds. Major cable companies have not carried the channel for a long time as many are unsure about the image it has in the American psyche. Going back a bit into this image, Western sensibilities were apparently not suited for the graphic imagery of violence during the Iraq War and the Bush administration called it the “terror network.”

It is important to make a distinction here. Al Jazeera Arabic is different than Al Jazeera English. Al Jazeera Arabic, which caters to its Arab audience, is tailored for its own audience and thus some see it as more extreme. However, the English version is suited for its own intended audience and has shows by leading Western broadcasters David Frost and Riz Khan.

Al Jazeera also carries quality programming and documentaries. Just a look at its website shows the wide variety of programming. The channel’s coverage of the Egyptian revolution was well-received by many. Alex Pareene wrote in an article on Salon.com, “Fox has moved on to anchor babies. CNN reports that the ruling party building is on fire, but Al Jazeera is showing the fire live. All three of the major U.S. cable news networks are prefacing breaking news on their chyrons with the words ‘Al-Jazeera reports.'”

I wonder if any U.S. media network has 71 foreign bureaus and more than 1,200 employees for a single channel. Al Jazeera Media Network has it. As U.S. news networks cut down on foreign staff due to declining revenues, the Qatari petrodollars are helping to gather some of the best stories happening around the world. As for propaganda, I think it would be a fair debate whether or not popular Fox News and MSNBC are extensions of political parties masquerading as “news.”

Those who have watched Al Jazeera online may at least agree with the diversity of the news it presents. The network has won several awards in journalism. Royal Television Society, Amnesty International Media Award and Monte Carlo TV Festival are just some of the honors Al Jazeera won since its inception in 2006.

So what could be the reason for operating a news channel that does not bring in actual revenue? It is quite the same model that BBC, France 24 and Russia Today have: It is more about influence than revenue. Possibly, the same world events are seen differently by every nation. And Qatar will surely push for its own views on air. Al Jazeera’s Syria has also been recently criticized to be biased, as it closely involves foreign relations with Qatar. The channel is infamous for interviewing Osama bin Laden after 9/11, even though the interview was not aired. The editorial independence of the network is questioned as a news director position is headed by a member of the royal Qatari family.

Ultimately, even if it is a voice we disagree with, shouldn’t we make an effort to hear it?


Varad Diwate is a freshman in journalism from Nashik, India.