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15 November 2006

BBC - Al Jazeera English Channel launched

Dear readers,

Today is a good day in the History of free media and press in general. Al Jazeera, the famous Qatari TV station has launched an English speaking channel. The news is making the front page of many newspapers, as well as the BBC. Al Jazeera is famous for being the first (arguably independant) TV station to bring daily news and programs to the Arab world, investigate, report images and produce content in Arabic and for Arabs. The only taboo Al Jazeera ever accepted was about its "home country", Qatar, whose government is funding the station. But its audience in the Arab population (and more generally in the Arab understanding Muslim world) has made of Al Jazeera the CNN of the South.

Of course, the main question about the Qatari TV is: "Is it fair and balanced?" Or is it simply a pro-Arab biased, islamist station? Slate magazine online tried to answer this question by comparing with American famous 24hours channels, CNN and Fox News. According to Slate's journalist, Al Jazeera is actually a rather balanced channel. The TV station airs of course radical islam views, but also moderate Arab ideas as well as Western analysis and opinions. Of course, the Arab-Muslim way of thinking is privileged, which makes a lot of sense for a TV whose public is 95% Arab and Muslim. But, Slate argues, so are Fox News and CNN too. They broadcast news for an overwhelmingly Western public (or Western educated). So their views "pay lips service" to the Arab view and images, while reflecting their more or less democratic or republican agenda respectively. As an exemple of Al Jazeera moderate and balanced approach, I would point at today's coverage they made of the legalization of gay marriage in South Africa. The article presents both pros and against and leave any judgement to its public. It's fair to say such a public will most likely be horrified, but that will come from its own cultural bias, not because of Al Jazeera. And one can compare with the treatment of such a topic by, say, a Rush Limbaugh...

The question which remains though is wether (as the BBC puts it) Al Jazeera will keep the same editorial line in its English and Arabic version. If it does not, the English version will sadly lose most of its interest, which is obviously to give the Western world an accurate view of the Arabic and/or Muslim mind. Al Jazeera, nonetheless, has provided us with a fantastic first step towards intercultural understanding. More than any military might, this kind of initiative has more chance to bring peace to the Middle-East than any military force. Who said the pen was stronger than the sword?

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