Welcome, Al Jazeera America
On Aug. 20, the Qatari news network Al Jazeera launched Al Jazeera America, a new cable news network directed at American domestic politics. This marks the global news organization’s foray into the American market, with the ability to reach more than 40 million households (compared to the 4.7 million of Al Jazeera English). In response, many American commentators have responded with fear and anger at Al Jazeera and called it biased for attempting to influence American policy. This line of thinking is misguided, outdated and condescending. It speaks to an inability to listen to a non-Western perspective on global issues.
The two main problems that people seem to have with Al Jazeera are the source of the funding and its supposed editorial bias. But neither of those, I think, speaks to the real issue, which is the inability of Westerners to consider a Middle Eastern news organization to be independent.
Much of Al Jazeera’s funding comes from the Qatari government that supposedly puts undue influence on the network. As the theory goes, the Qatari government has a vested interest in influencing world (specifically American) politics to suit its favor.
By that logic, no international news organization could possibly be independent if a government primarily funds it. Why don’t we compare the BBC and Al Jazeera, then? The BBC is a very respected worldwide news source, and it is also a government-funded organization that supposedly offers the news independently. The BBC does mostly get funding directly from taxpayers while Al Jazeera is supported directly by the Qatari government, but this speaks more to the source of government revenue in each of these countries. Since Qatar provides most of its services from oil revenues, it is pretty understandable that taxpayers aren’t involved in supporting an international news organization they wouldn’t be able to afford.
And besides, the BBC isn’t entirely independent, either. It depends on the issue, but its portrayals and descriptions of people from the North of England and even Scotland can be fairly despicable at times.
So what is the answer? Clearly, government news sources are biased. So, do we really trust the corporate entities that run news organizations in the United States to be impartial? News Corp.-owned subsidiaries certainly have a particular conservative slant to them. The New York Times, the supposed beacon of impartiality and news reporting, is the opposite.
The main comparison that can be drawn with all these different news sources is that every one of them is biased in some way. Whether it’s The Economist analyzing the world with Western economic thought or the Wall Street Journal advocating for Mitt Romney and reporting particularly bad financial news. Whether it is the New York Times reporting certain articles incorrectly or Fox News being, well, Fox News. Whether it is Western media not being able to analyze goings-on accurately or independently in South America or Africa or Asia, the key is that every news source has its biases.
Every single news outlet is run by people with similar beliefs about the world and naturally will choose what news to report and what news to push to the back of the paper and how to frame the happenings in the world. That isn’t nefarious or evil; it is simply how media works nowadays, and the problems that Al Jazeera might have are the same ones that Western media does.
Al Jazeera is particularly biased against Israel. Its discussion about the Arab Spring may have been lessened or even framed differently than it was in the Western world. To claim that Al Jazeera is somehow more biased or that its interests are ignoble because it is from Qatar reeks of a superior, condescending attitude.
It just reeks of arrogance to me that the first major news network to come out of the Arab world is ridiculed in such a fashion, leading people to say, “No, you aren’t good enough. Look where you come from. How dare you think you can do the news.” It is offensive to think that its abilities to report on important issues are somehow lesser than ours.
I for one am glad that Al Jazeera America is here. Al Jazeera has been doing absolutely stellar journalistic work since its inception, and while there have been hiccups, it is considered one of the foremost journalistic sources in the world. Besides, have you seen CNN these days? If anything can get rid of that, I’d be happy.