Portrait of the Arab world's most widely broadcast TV news station, more visible to the West after September 11th.
Committed to the principle of unbiased journalism, or “the opinion, and the other opinion,” as their slogan has it, Al-Jazeera (“the island”) has broadcast from the tiny kingdom of Qatar since its founding in 1996. El-Nawawy (Journalism/Univ. of West Florida) and Iskandar (Communications/Univ. of Kentucky) here outline its beginnings, programming, philosophy, and audience. In marked contrast to most Middle Eastern television, devoted primarily to entertainment and pro-government propaganda, Al-Jazeera, its staff culled mainly from the collapsed BBC Arabic TV network, is an equal-opportunity offender; the station has been asked to censor its coverage “by everyone from Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.” Though Al-Jazeera garnered pan-Arab attention with its in-depth coverage of the Palestinian intifada and its exclusive coverage of the first days of the war in Afghanistan, it covers major issues across the Middle East, many of them in highly confrontational talk shows. Algerian officials once cut all power to a number of cities in order to prevent citizens from seeing a program about the ongoing civil war. Supported by the Qatari emir, “a maverick by any definition,” the station operates mostly with impunity. The authors, both of Egyptian descent, also cover the audience, which has myriad points of view but a generally shared belief in an international Zionist conspiracy. They document how people access the programming: those who can't afford a satellite dish watch at cafes or with friends, or buy a bootleg video.
Indispensable for those who want to understand how news is made in the Middle East.