Al Jazeera and the recent Arab “revolution”

Stephen Cole, Presenter of Al Jazeera English was the very renowned speaker of the Coventry Conversation held last Thursday.

He gave the audience an insight into what Al Jazeera was all about: “We are the fastest growing network, taking centre stage in recent times and Africa is important to us”.

He reiterated that Al Jazeera has nothing to do with Al-Qaeda as people like to suggest. The US government however has a tensed relationship with them, with former President Bush expressing that he wanted to bomb them. As to whether that was a joke, they are not sure. Nonetheless their offices have been hit twice by troops and this they believe was a deliberate attack.

He explained that the Americans changed their minds after seeing their broadcast on Bin Laden. US viewers, who are becoming more interested in Al Jazeera, watch the channel by other means. This new alliance has been a transformative impetus. Writes Nana-Ama Akpoblu…

Arabic channels, he added, have emerged in the last 1990 and this has given a voice to the marginalised political parties, which are not heard. Al Jazeera was also demonised for giving a contrary opinion on war. America, however, has woken up to the truth. He also affirmed that the cold war that existed between Al Jazeera and America has ended because of US secretary of state, Hilary Clinton’s visit to Qatar. Cole stated that Al Jazeera is becoming a channel of reference, however he doesn’t mean this in an arrogant way.

The channel was created by the Qatar government in 1996 and Al Jazeera English is only five years old. The Qatar government pays an estimated Seven hundred and fifty million towards its running. He said: “You don’t get rich by running a channel, you rather get poor.”

The Middle East saw Al Jazeera as an open door. It helped them to understand the media censorship as matters regarding the state were shaped behind closed doors. The only response citizens ever got from delegated ministers on why things went on behind closed doors, was development and deliberation battles were ongoing hence they were not told the full story.

The recent uproars he explained picked up because the tension has been the heartbeat of generations. Over the past 15 years the frustration of the people in the Middle East has been broken, he stated.

The audience were reminded that reporting from war-torn zones are not without dangers. Cole reported the killings of some of their journalists and also about the recent beating of one of their cameramen who is still off duty. He further objected to any connection between Colonel Gaddafi and Al Jazeera. The 1980’s movement, he reminded, are the ties that bind Gaddaffi.

Tunisia’s regime is not a dictatorship, he added. Eighty percent of Tunisian’s belong to the middle class and their level of education is ranked in 5th position in the Arab world. The uproar began with a human-interest story, he narrated: It was “one market trader and a slap. A young market trader was asked to pay bribe toward the spot he sold his produce. Not having enough money on him that day, he asked if he could go home and get some money when he was slapped. The rage behind the slap was because it was done by an officer who was a woman. The trader saw that as a disgrace to have been slapped by a woman. In his fury he set himself ablaze in the market place to express his frustration on how bribe taking has sunk so low to even a common market trader.”

On Jan 30 Al Jazeera was ordered to be shut down with Nilesat also breaking the contract. However ten Arab sister channels came to their rescue. The breaking of the satellite, Cole stated, has brought about an unexpected new opportunity since it causes people to devise other means of obtaining news. This radical means was strengthened by the vast majority of North African’s who are predominantly under the age of twenty-five.

Mr Cole describes Al Jazeera’s coverage on the Egyptian revolution as their ‘CNN moment’: “People around the world want us. Al Jazeera has become must see TV especially if you want to know what is happening in the Arab world”.

Looking at Al Jazeera’s new engagement, it has become a trusted news provider. The editorial lines are carefully scrutinised hence increasing a powerful alliance between the news media. They have broken the media monopoly.

“We were in Tunis, we were in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and we have deployed five of our team to Japan even though it is a very expensive trip.” He went on to say: “Once people have access to information they can decide their own fate. What we are about is to extract information from the powerful to the people because in reality those who make changes and decisions keep their own people in the dark”.

He acknowledges that what set Al Jazeera apart during Cairo’s uproar was their level of dialogue, as they were speaking to citizens directly. More so, they conveyed a better sense of what was happening. Additionally they are not accustomed to deploying journalists just to cover stories but rather they make use of the ones they have.

Mr Cole mentioned that they are over running many news networks; where news networks were making cuts they were making it their focus and through this they develop a unique identity, he said: “The environment you broadcast adds colour to your network”.

When asked if their broadcasting techniques turned a ‘mob’ into a future ‘mob’ he replied: “we have passed the accuracy test and Al Jazeera broadcasts the truth.” Subsequently when asked if they were the voice to the Middle East he replied with an empathic ‘no’ saying: “we are a channel just like any other.”

He stated that Qatar plays no political role in Al Jazeera. The Qatari government is aiming to raise the profile of its country hence, the vast amount of money they are contributing to Al Jazeera. He additionally reminded us that the Qatari government’s enormous contribution does not influence their job in anyway neither does it affect what news stories they cover. Al Jazeera, he reaffirmed, gets both sides. Not the White House side and one side as done by other networks.

The secrets to news presenting, he gave away, was to have a deep calm. However he emphasised on the amount of research that needed to be done: “Every story should always have a lot of background.”

He concluded with valuable advice to aspiring journalists: “keep reading and read everything because you always get something from the things you read… Find a mentor if you can.”

 

Picture Source: http://www.israelmatzav.blogspot.com

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