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Media forum analyses Al Jazeera network

Dubai, May 12, 2010

The strategy of Al Jazeera International, a 24-hour English language news and current affairs TV channel, came under spotlight at the ongoing Arab Media Forum (AMF) 2010 in Dubai.

Themed ‘Shifting mediascape: inspiring content…expanding reach’, the two-day AMF 2010, which opened today (May 12) at The Atlantis-Palm, brought together more than 2,000 media personalities and experts from Arab countries and across the world.

The seminar assessed the need for Arab channels to broadcast in other languages.

Session moderator Dr Tarek Yousef, dean of Dubai School of Government, opened the discussion asking Saleh Najm, Al Jazeera International’s head of news, if three years down the line he regarded the channel a success.

Joe Conason, author and columnist of the New York Observer, said: “Al Jazeera International has definitely created a niche. While it is not influencing local opinion in America, it is widely perceived as the Arab perspective on news and is hence monitored by diplomats, the media, academics and scholars.”

James Zogby, founder and president of the American Institute, added: “Like any other foreign news network, Al Jazeera’s impact on the American audiences’ opinion is not significant, as even Arab expatriate immigrants have a wide array of networks to choose from.”

Whenever Al Jazeera is accessible to an audience, they tend to find some solidarity with it, said Adel Iskandar, media and communication lecturer at US-based Georgetown University, citing examples of a Vermont-based cable operator who was met with heavy protests when it tried to take the station off air.

“Interestingly, not all the opinions expressed in this case were those of Arabic immigrants,” added Iskandar to validate his point about the station’s success in Western markets.

Jorn De Cock, Middle East editor of De Standaard, criticised Al Jazeera International of being too ‘Anglo Saxon’ in its coverage of certain issues, failing to provide the European or Middle Eastern perspective on the news.

To this Najm responded: “As identified in its mission statement, Al Jazeera International takes after the spirit of Al Jazeera (Arabic) in being editorially correct over politically correct. The network aspires to be the ‘voice of the voices’ and not necessarily the ‘Arab voice’ on issues.”

Connecting with Western audiences continues to be a prominent agenda for discussion in the Arab world.

While the global media has successfully reached out to the Arab diaspora in Arabic, there has been little effort on the part of Arab television platforms to reciprocate the same, with the exception of the Al Jazeera News that launched its English language channel over three years ago, a statement said.

Today, there are three Western satellite channels transmitting in the Arabic language round the clock. These include the BBC Arabic from the UK, Al Hurra from the US, Russia Today from Russia, as well as Al Alam from Iran.

In addition, there are several other channels transmitting in Arabic for a limited number of hours daily, including channels from China, South Korea, the EU, France, Germany and Holland.

Representing the Arab world, Al Jazeera International remains the only English language channel transmitting 24/7 at the global level.

In light of such observations, panelists examined the prominence of Al Jazeera International in the English language space; open free-to-air and constrained cable transmissions, as well as Arabic content in Al Jazeera International.

The need for reaching out to new world power houses such as China, India and Brazil, and if so, who must take the initiative were also analysed at the session.

Organised by the Dubai Press Club, the Arab Media Forum began in 2001 and is a Middle East’s prominent media event in the Middle East. – TradeArabia News Service




Tags: Dubai | Al Jazeera | Analysis | Arab Media Forum | 24-hour English News Channel |

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