Opening the Door (and the Living Room) to Al Jazeera English

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Al-Jazeera English in its first days. Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images

We've talked a lot about Al-Jazeera over the years — the pan-Arab satellite news channel is a magnet for controversy. It broadcasts tapes of Osama Bin Laden, it's been kicked out of Iraq, etc., etc.. But it is a player on the global media stage — and there are many people who trust it far more than say, NPR. Well now, it's Al-Jazeera English's time to shine — with a brand new managing editor and high hopes, they're hoping to broadcast into the homes of the English speaking world. Today at the Newseum, we'll talk to Tony Burman — he's just signed on to head Al-Jazeera English — about his plans for AJE's future.



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Al-Jazeera might have a large audience, but that doesn't make it any more responsible journalism. It just means there is more individuals that believe the ideology spouted by Al-Jazeera and nothing more.

Sent by William | 3:19 PM | 6-4-2008

I've been in Burma in recent months following the peaceful demonstrations by monks in September. Most Burmese I talked to thought that al Jazeera furnished the most comprehensive reportage of that difficult period.

Sent by Dwight Clark | 3:21 PM | 6-4-2008

My wife and I just returned from 3 weeks in Portugal. We started watching Al-Jazeera because our usual favorite (BBC) was not broadcasting nor was CNN.
The news seemed reasonably balanced but with more coverage of Africa and Burma than we would probably see in USA. It was not at all a pure Arab mouthpiece. It was broadcasting the world's news.
We are native US citizens who enjoy traveling when we can.

Sent by Gil and Gail Woolley | 3:29 PM | 6-4-2008

Although I've never watched Al-Jazeera English, I have seen a very informative documentary about the Arabic version and its dedication to questioning authority in the Arab world. And Tony Burman has an excellent point about the need for a global news network NOT located in the Northern Hemisphere. As much as American, British and other northern and western journalists strive for objectivity and impartiality, subtle distinctions of viewpoint creep into their reporting unconsciously. I offer this brief anecdote: when I visited my best friend after he moved from our native United States to Australia, he let me drive and I promptly commented on the challenge of doing so on the "wrong" side of the road. He immediately responded with a telling question: "Why is it 'wrong'? Because we don't do it this way in America? It's not wrong, it's just different." From that exchange I learned a valuable lesson about the hidden assumptions that lurk in any given viewpoint.

Sent by Tom Greenwell | 3:32 PM | 6-4-2008

Correction on the Hate America question? Has it been cleansed from Google? Seems almost to color the audience reaction. Do some prep work, Neal.

Sent by James M McMurtry Jr. | 3:36 PM | 6-4-2008

Your guest is either incredibly foolish, or naive, wishing to give US exposure to Al-Jazeera for "cultural" reasons. Three of my children are in different branches of the military, and we have strong personal ties with many active-duty military in Central Texas. People with service experience and actually, people with any intelligence, will tell you how Al-Jazeera lies, provides disinformation and misinformation on the US and its military, to further inflame its listeners against the US and the good this country is trying to do overseas. It is, plain and simple, a tool for propaganda, to promote extremism, terrorism, and denigrate the US and all the men and women who serve this country -- and NOTHING ELSE. Not only are you fools, but you disrespect those who serve and this country by your support of such an organization.

Sent by Juliane in Texas | 3:37 PM | 6-4-2008

Al-Jazeera, like every news media in the world is not neutral. Al-Jazeers has a unique perspective which is reflective of the views and attitudes of its wider primary audience as well as its owner. Of course Al-Jazeera does not attempt to enter or will enter the American media market with its gun blazing. This would defeat its goal to actually enter such market. Al-Jazeer is smart enough to at least begin by putting a Western face on my hiring seasoned Western Journalist. Given the oil money we Westerns pump into the treasure of its owner they can well afford it. The reality of Al-Jazeera will only be revealed much futher down the line once its firmly rooted and secure in the American Media market. Any change will certain be gradual. At the same time its vital that American have as many different perspectives on important issues as possible. The responsibility rests with American to remember Al-Jazeera is not neutral and to view its reporting in this context. Sadly, there will be many who will forget this critical point not the least of which will be Muslims who immergrated to America and those who converted. These groups may actually be the more important audience for Al-Jazeera anyway.

Sent by Michael | 3:38 PM | 6-4-2008

Mr. Burman keeps referring to BBC and CBC in the same breath as Al-Jazeera: as if they were the same.

BBC and CBC do not use one lexicon when reporting stories to their local Canadian and British authors, but another when reporting stories to the world.

They have a unified editorial policy regarding the language & terminology used across the board.

The impression many of us have of Al-Jazeera is that it has one editorial policy for its English language broacasts, but an entirely different one for local consumption. The one panders to English langauge prejudices, the other to Arab language prejudices.

For example, Arab language broadcasts will refer to "martyrs", focus on the death of children without contextualization, English language broadcasts will not use the language of "martyrdom", and provides context for events.

This sort of editorial policy is otherwise known as PROPAGANDA

Sent by John, Ann Arbor, MI | 3:39 PM | 6-4-2008

My only experience with Al Jazeera was when I was in college. I was the public relations director of an International Business Society at my university (a well known Washington DC school) and we wanted to host a discussion of international media. We had hoped to include Al Jazeera on our panel but were firmly told that we were not allowed to. We fought this decision, and ultimately lost. I found this extrememly frustrating, and it just goes to show how much people are ignorant of the importance of having a wide and open discussion about topics in the world.

Sent by Tarah | 3:41 PM | 6-4-2008

I've watched Al Jezeera English with the question in mind " Is this just a propaganda tool of the middle east ?" but found, to the contrary, that it was a very professional, well balanced, news organization. The thing we need now is more exchange of veiwpoints and not less. Americans need not fear Al Jezeera but rather should see it as an opportunity to add our pro Western point of veiw and also consider that any criticism of the US maybe something we want to hear.

Sent by jeanne Thompson | 3:50 PM | 6-4-2008

After Dave Marash called attention to anti-American coverage of the United States by Al Jazeera English, which has no American anchor anywhere in the network, and is run in Washington DC by non-American editorial managers, what if anything did the Al Jazeera network do to improve its coverage of the United States? Did they take the criticism to heart, or dismiss it as the voice of an upstart?

Sent by mona bruce | 3:57 PM | 6-4-2008

One of the problems al Jazeera English is facing in finding a home on US cable networks is the fervent yet hopefully shrinking number of Americans who interpreted the 9/11 attack as coming from the Arab or wider Muslim world, not from a band of lunatics who strove to pull us into a permanent conflict and do to us what they did to the Soviets in Afghanistan.

We, led by our executive branch, were quite happy to accept the challenge on al Qaeda's terms, and met that challenge by invading and occupying Iraq. In the process, our leaders worked on our fears and anger and righteous indignation at the 9/11 attack into a general hatred for anything different - anything not American.

That pool of hatred (serviced, ironically, by its own news network, Fox) will fight like hell to keep any voice from outside the world from appearing on their home cable network. They will resort to boycotts, harsh emails and general noise if, God forbid, a foreign news service, especially one from the dreaded Middle East, should threaten to poison their own TV.

This substantial minority, some 25% of the American people, really believes that we are in a war, World War 3 (some think World War 4, counting the Cold War as 3). Some believe this is a fulfillment of biblical prophecy, others just blindly follow their leaders. They honestly feel, and were told by their leaders, that al Qaeda is an existential threat to this, the strongest nation on the planet. In the process, they have made us less strong. We're deep in debt, militarily overextended, politically divided and only now coming out from under our blanket of fear.

In short, we fell right into al Qaeda's bloody trap.

And that 25% will do their damnedest to keep us in it, in part by fighting to keep al Jazeera English off of their cable network.

Sent by Steve Jones | 4:09 PM | 6-4-2008

AlJazeera English is very different from AlJazeera Arabic. The stories and content/context shown on air within each is targeted to each of the preconceived sensibilities of their viewership. Their staffing reflects this as well.
The other reason they are different is due to the Smith-Mundt law of 1948 (later challenged but relatively unchanged) which prohibits US audience broadcast of VOA as well as non-english speaking stations newscasts etc via radio/tv/satellite which originate in non-english predominate countries.
Al-Jazeera english was broadcast with comcast for a short time but was then pulled. I know that satellite companies may be able to access it but they cannot/willnot provide the satellite direction and coding to show their programming.

Sent by K | 6:33 PM | 6-4-2008

I heard Neal's cheap shot question tossed at Tony Burman, "Does Al Jazeera still have the "Hate America Program?". Neal better be absolutely certain such a program ever existed. (I find no mention of it anywhere I searched on the Net.) If not, Neal deserves a trip to the wood shed (maybe he could take a class in journalistic ethics from Al Jazeera's producers) and he owes Mr. Burman, and all NPR listeners a major apology.

Sent by Jim Houser | 6:40 PM | 6-4-2008

I watch Al Jazeera regularly on the internet with a subscription. The fallacious misconception in all too many American minds is that Al Jazeera is a mouthpiece for anti Americanism and anti Western sentiment. Watching the channel over the past year and a half, I have come to the conclusion that although this accusation is generally false, the fact that these accusations are made at all means Al Jazeera has got something right.

Al Jazeera English comes as something of a breath of fresh air as compared to the mainstream US media where the journalistic standards seem to be in a relentless free-for-all decline. While CNN, MSNBC and especially FOX News diligently endeavour to outdo each other in terms of journalistic tackiness with their emphasis on the US elections and the misdemeanours of Hollywood's rich and famous, Al Jazeera English distinguishes itself by focussing on frequently underreported newsworthy stories from around the world. As a news organization it shows itself to have journalistic standards head and shoulders above the corporate US media. The catch is that even though it is not widely available on cable, it is freely available on the net and garners a staggering 3 million hits on its Youtube site each week from North America alone, attesting to its increasing popularity amongst American viewers. A television station that is really making waves and its mark in the realm of journalism.

Sent by Suhail Shafi | 8:15 PM | 6-4-2008

You gotta give credit where it's due--TOTN has covered Al Jazeera more than any other mainstream media outlet I can think of. However, in the future I hope Neal does a little background research before he hurls an unsubstantiated slur like the one that AJE had a program called "Hate America." Huh?

I wish there were a petition one could sign to get AJE on cable and satellite channels. Tough to register your voice individually.

Sent by joe | 12:55 PM | 6-5-2008

After 9-11 I began reading a lot of middle-eastern press. I did this to try and understand their perspective. Al-Jazeera seems to be the most balanced and professional of the mideast coverage. However after reading and watching many stories written and produced by Al-Jazeera, I conclude that they are definately biased against the US and US policy. They take the point of view that if we act, we act maliciously, if we don't act, we are calous and don't care. They will not be pleased and choose to remain victims.

An example of the biased comes to mind from the coverage of Fallujah. In Al-Jazeera's coverage of the Al-Qaida and Sunni led defense of the city, Al-Qaida and Sunnis were considered freedom fighters and martyrs. Also, they would referrence kids and women taking up arms and bravely covering "freedom fighters". Some days later I would read that the US soldiers callouly slaughtered women and children(with accompanying photo of 12 year old boy). PROPAGANDA. This is not good unbiased journalism. This kills more people and helps keep Iraq and the middle east happily barbaric(treatment of women, suicide bombers of innocence, and fear/rejection of anything non-muslim). Also, I would note that they often avoid stories that would be positive about the US while simultaneously tractor-beaming the negative.

I personally don't mind if they are broadcast in the US. However, I challenge the new editor to be un-biased and not allow the covert "Death to America" chant to be continued. I also challenge every american to let their cable company know if they don't or do want a biased, anti-american, voice of islam in their living room.

Sent by Parrish | 4:51 PM | 6-5-2008

My wife and I recently spent 5 weeks on various european cities and had many opportunities to watch Al Jazeera English. I found it to be as good or better than CNN with LESS opinion and propaganda than CNN. I would welcome this channel here in the states.

Sent by Dale Mukavetz | 7:18 PM | 6-5-2008


I think I have found your infamous show. Unfortunately, it was a Mad TV Parody. Not your finest moment.

Sent by Louis Gluek | 9:14 PM | 6-5-2008

I read the Al-Jazeera english website. Their reporting style leaves much to be desired from this news-connoisseur. Disorganized links, Inflammatory articles from last year..not to mention this year. Yes, there's a lot that goes on over in the middle east, I'll agree, but the lack of professionalism is what turns me away from using this as a reliable source of news.

Sent by Matt | 9:48 PM | 6-5-2008

!!!Yes!!!, You Can Watch Al-Jazeera ENGLISH in the USA on your own TV!, in fact I'm watching it as I'm typing this.
To watch Al-Jazeera you need to learn what is FTA (FREE TO AIR), its the equivalent of an antenna on your roof to get all the free channels in your area, FTA gets you all the free channels from a satellite(s), the most famous one in the usa is 97W which holds over 100+ international channels, including Al-Jazeera ENGLISH!, you will have to educate yourself about FTA(search Google for FTA), then buy the receiver/dish/lnb/cable(around $200-400usd, remember this is a one time cost since the channels are free to receive!),,,,Best to set it up yourself since its difficult to find someone to install it(but they are out there!),,,Once you got it going, you will receive many channels from around the world that will give you a NEW Prospective beside the limted news in the usa media....

Watch AlJazeera ENGLISH in the USA, FREE!

Sent by Mohd A. | 5:28 AM | 6-6-2008

Mona, Josh Rushing, who is a former Marine, is a reporter for Al Jazeera.

Sent by joe | 2:27 PM | 6-10-2008

I don't want Al-Jazeera English because it doesn't present the same info and viewpoint and content as Al-jazeera. Don't really NEED another CNN or US viewpoint with Al-Jazeera name. Want to see SAME feed and same loaded content with middle eastern viewpoint. So if Al jazeera tells middle east viewer what to think...I want to see that message just like I can NPR or FOX or BBC.

Sent by Frank Fulton | 8:11 PM | 6-12-2008

Al Jazeera is an amazing news channel, very well balanced, with relevant world news. I think people should have the option to watch it, no one will be forced to watch it. For those of us living in the US who grew up and have family in Africa, Asia, etc. it would be a welcomed addition to the dry, celebrity/"discussion" (read:argument) heavy coverage we get from Fox and CNN.

Sent by Monica | 1:07 AM | 8-17-2008

I deeply Love AJE its reporting is awsome, the FCC should be ashamed of its self for letting our media go down, I am in Favor of Bringing in BBC World 24/7 CNN International, and Awsome AJE, I really like it, Lets see what happens when people watch VOA TV CNN International and AJE Yahooo American Domestic media, Sucks, AJE 24/7 Yah!!!!!

Sent by Andrew Bowe | 11:40 PM | 8-21-2008

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