MIKE PESCA, host:
This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. I'm Mike Pesca.
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
And I'm Madeleine Brand. It's been on television throughout the Middle East, and as of two weeks ago, all over the world.
(Soundbite of Al-Jazeera International)
Unidentified Woman (Anchor): The top story on Al-Jazeera. Mourning in Lebanon. Hundreds of people in Pierre Gemayel's hometown pay their respects...
BRAND: Al-Jazeera International is the new English-language version of the Qatar-based news channel. No cable or satellite company here in the U.S. is currently offering it to their customers, but you can watch it online, which is what Troy Patterson has been doing. He's TV critic for the online magazine Slate and he joins us now. Hi Troy.
Mr. TROY PATTERSON (Slate): Hi.
BRAND: Well, tell us about your week's worth of viewing of Al-Jazeera International. What was their perspective? What would they lead with versus what, let's say, Fox or CNN would lead with?
Mr. PATTERSON: As you might expect, their focus is on the Middle East, so throughout the end of last week and into the weekend they delivered marvelously rigorous coverage of the assassination of Pierre Gemayel, the Lebanese cabinet minister.
BRAND: And do they have a different perspective than something you would see on the news channels here in the U.S.?
Mr. PATTERSON: I think they have a fuller perspective and a rounder perspective and a perspective that is not fundamentally sort of pro-American. While Al-Jazeera English is not anti-American, it's simply non-American.
BRAND: Well, a lot of people think Al-Jazeera and they think anti-American propaganda.
Mr. PATTERSON: That's true. I see that a reporter for the CBS Evening News has said that depending on where you sit, its launch marks either the first day of worldwide terror TV or the first global newscast not dominated by Western thinking.
The channel couldn't be anything further from worldwide terror TV. Though it's Arabic parent channel has broadcast tapes by Osama bin Laden and had as guests, for instance, officials from the armed wing of Hamas, these figures aren't getting a free ride. The interviews sort of rough them up a bit and they're rigorous.
I think it's worth stating that they focus on news, you know, truly from around the globe, dispatches from Tonga, from Darfur. Their lead story yesterday from the Americas was about the election in Ecuador. And I do think that cable companies would be doing something of a public service were they to air the channel.
BRAND: Well, what is the thinking behind launching Al-Jazeera International? What is the point? Why do they want to have an English language service?
Mr. PATTERSON: Up till now the channel's ambitions have been regional. The Arabic extension of Al-Jazeera is interested in being a Pan-Arab channel. Here they're making a move towards competing with BBC World and with CNN International. It's political news.
There's less emphasis on business and technology than there is on CNN International, say. What you get instead is a thorough-going digest of what's going on throughout the world, particularly in the southern hemisphere.
BRAND: Well, like CNN or Fox News, Al-Jazeera International is good at promoting itself on its programs on the air. Let's listen to a sample promo.
(Soundbite of Al-Jazeera promo)
Unidentified Man: I think what makes a broadcaster is honesty, integrity and storytelling. But more than that, I think, is the ability or the desire to see the world and people's experiences from as many different angles as possible. My...
BRAND: So Troy Patterson, Al-Jazeera - we report, you decide?
Mr. PATTERSON: The clip that we just heard was among the sort of the more sober of Al-Jazeera's self-promotional efforts. There's one in which Bob Geldof, the rock star and philanthropist, goes on this sort of rather handsome rant about how he's not beholden to anyone and the channel's clearly sort of looking to appropriate that point of view.
BRAND: Troy, let me just ask you one sort of TV presentation question, and that is, how does it look? Does it look like something you want to watch or is it something that's kind of somber and dour and something like broccoli or something?
Mr. PATTERSON: No. It's terrifically slick, actually. It has the same sort of bold, clean, graphic look of CNN International or BBC World, and the music's perhaps even a bit more sophisticated, sort of crisp and loungy.
BRAND: Crisp and loungier?
Mr. PATTERSON: Yeah. They're not afraid of funk. I think that their sound engineers have an impressive background in listening to electronica.
BRAND: Troy Patterson is TV critic for the online magazine Slate. Thank you, Troy.
Mr. PATTERSON: Thank you.