The controversial Qatari satellite-TV network Al Jazeera has announced plans to bring its news program to the West in English beginning next year. The broadcaster believes there to be a market in the West, sighting that 40% of its viewers come from North America and Europe. Will Americans really want Arab news even if it is in English?
Broadcasting Arab news with an Arabic slant in America, especially during this sensitive time after September 11th, is a ballsy move. The American media has vilified the Al Jazeera network for its decidedly anti-American and unvarnished coverage of events such as the conflict in Afghanistan, and the war in Iraq. More seriously, for airing taped messages from Al Qaeda, the broadcaster has been likened to a soapbox for terrorists to stand on and let free to spew their venom at a captive worldwide audience.
Last month Al Jazeera posted a new website in English that aimed to supplement their very popular news website and cater to what they saw as a growing interest from Western web surfers. However, shortly after the launch, a few, shall we say, overtly pro-war hackers staged multi-pronged attacks on both sites. As a result, both websites have only been able to have intermittent service due to the continuous barrage of service attacks.
Additionally, as recently as last week, officials at the New York Stock Exchange banned two Al Jazeera reporters from reporting on the exchange floor.
Despite opposition, however, Al Jazeera has been doing well. According to the popular British newspaper The Guardian, since Operation Iraqi Freedom began, four million new European subscribers signed on to the broadcaster’s service. That brings the total European subscription to eight million viewers. Even the French TV station Canal Plus cut a deal with Al Jazeera to broadcast the Arab channel’s footage. Al Jazeera media consultants said that there could be a European subscription market as large 35 million people.
But before we blame the Europeans for viewing a station with an extreme Arab posture, we have to consider that much of the war footage that we see here in America, of bombing campaigns and troop movements, are supplied by Al Jazeera and sold to “patriotic networks” such as Fox News and MSNBC. It serves to highlight the hypocrisy of Fox News when it openly questions Al Jazeera reporting but is only too happy to show viewers Al Jazeera footage.
Are American viewers ready for Arab news in English? A similar question could be posed to viewers in the Middle East. CNN and the U.S. State Department are going to begin broadcasting American news in Arabic to Arab audiences. They may just prove more receptive than we.
Gunnar Heinrich is a visiting 3rd year Politics & International Relations major from the University of Aberdeen, King’s College in Scotland. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.