How Arab Is Al-Jazeera English? Comparative Study of Al-Jazeera Arabic and Al-Jazeera English News Channels

By Al-Najjar, Abeer I. | Global Media Journal, Spring 2009 | Go to article overview

How Arab Is Al-Jazeera English? Comparative Study of Al-Jazeera Arabic and Al-Jazeera English News Channels


Al-Najjar, Abeer I., Global Media Journal


Abstract

This paper aims to identify the similarities and differences between Al-Jazeera English (AJE) and Al-Jazeera Arabic (AJA) according to their representation by country and region on the one hand and story placement and story type on the other. Particular attention is given to the Arab countries and the region of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). The study analyzes the content of the main evening (KSA time) news bulletins of the two channels over a six-month period (November 2006 - May 2007), in which 477 news stories are examined. The newscasts of AJE and AJA are analyzed over two rolling weeks and two constructed weeks.

Introduction

Al-Jazeera International [English] wants nothing less than to break the Western monopoly on the telling of history, by expanding the spectrum of perspectives participating in English language discussion of world issues. [It] aspires instead to create a global channel with a target audience of the plane's English speakers. (Malek, 2006, p.11).

AJE is thought to have the capacity to reach 100 million households worldwide in 60 countries (Gibson, 2007; Mio TV, 2008). In less than two years, the viewership of AJE has reached 110 million households (MySinchew, July 30, 2008). Its targeted audience is large and diverse across continents including Europe, North America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East (Hanely, 2007, pp. 24-25).

AJE is described as the "New United Nations," where journalists from over 50 nations are brought together. It is supported by an "open budget." In addition, it broadcasts from an Arab Muslim country and claim to have a focus on the developing countries.

Changing the news agenda, expanding the audience choices, revolutionizing the international news, breaking the Western hegemony of international news production, adding a new perspective to global events, challenging the West or changing the direction of the flow of international news, and many other roles were assigned to AJE even before its launch on November 15, 2006. Its officials, journalists and many observers and commentators have various opinions and expectations concerning the new channel.

In AJE's statement and motto, the channel's officials illustrate their intention of "setting the news agenda." AJE was launched with the message "global media has [sic] changed forever" (El Naggar, November 16, 2007). Nigel Parsons, the then managing director of AJE, asserted: "[The channel] can take on the likes of CNN, BBC, Sky News and Fox News," stating that AJE's aim was to "revolutioni[z]e viewer choice and set out a different news agenda" (Jones, 2007, p. 38).

Dave Marash, a Jewish American news anchor and one of the most renowned names to join AJE, said: "We're gonna seek out the areas neglected by the Western-oriented media." The promise was that the audience would be provided with news coverage that was neither American- nor European-centric. Consequently, it could expect a wide diversity of the geographical map of the news bulletins. Other commentators have gone further, suggesting that since the news channel broadcasts from Doha and is subsidized by Qatar, a Third world country, then the implication is that there will be more representation of the developing world or the "majority world" (Franks, 2004).

Along the same lines, Waddah Khanfar, general director of Al-Jazeera Network, said: "One of our goals is to reverse the flow of information to the South" (Indo-Asian News Service, 2006). This view is supported by various observers in the international media. A month after the launch of AJE, Ramzy Baroud wrote that the channel was a "notable addition to the growing global efforts aimed at counterbalancing American-European domination over world media" (Baroud, 2006).

Nevertheless, an "alternative" or non-Western news agenda is not possible without the fulfillment of certain conditions. One is the location of the news channel in a Middle Eastern Arab country, the majority of whose population is Muslim. …

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