Al Jazeera’s purchase of Current TV is good news for the America’s news business and news consumers. As a dedicated watcher of the channel’s current English language service, I hope that Al Jazeera America doesn’t change too much about what makes it stand out from its competition.
Although it’s owned by the government Gulf emirate Qatar, Al Jazeera is no Arab or Muslim propaganda network. (As if Arabs or Muslims could ever speak with one voice.) Based in Qatar’s capital Doha, with additional broadcast centers in Washington, London and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the network is a major league news operation that more than holds its own with the global heavyweights. Time Warner Cable does its subscribers a disservice by dropping the channel.
Last year, with US news networks obsessed with the presidential election and BBC flaunting its British knickers with unrelenting, surprisingly parochial coverage of the London Olympics and the royal family, Al Jazeera offered a more comprehensive global view, fronted by some of the world’s most attractive anchors.
Al Jazeera breaks with Western orthodoxy to present alternative perspectives, particularly on some key areas of interest to Americans. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, where American forces are still fighting and killing and being killed, Al Jazeera coverage by Kamal Hyder and others includes local sentiment that foreigners have been meddling for too long and are not helping to solve their nations’ problems. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is presented through the lens of Israel’s 45 year illegal occupation and continuing annexation of neighboring countries’ territory. Latin America coverage, led by my fellow CNN alumnus Lucia Newman, sets the standard among global English language channels. China coverage pushed the envelope far enough to get correspondent Melissa Chan kicked out of the country.
Al Jazeera’s plan to establish Al Jazeera America could be a good thing. The network’s US news coverage focuses on the usual headline stuff and quirky stories. Feature shows about the US often descend into simplistic leftwing clichés and conspiracy theories. Deepening its American involvement may help Al Jazeera bring to its US reporting the same thoughtful perspectives it delivers internationally. Or stronger US ties may steep Al Jazeera in the conventional lack of wisdom that makes American news networks so predictable and unenlightening. Let’s hope Al Jazeera America inherits its parent’s editorial pluck.
Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.