‘Al-Jazeera Effect’ Counters ‘CNN Effect’: Canadians Deserve Al Jazeera

The ‘CNN effect’, introduced in the 1991 Gulf War, served to mobilize international support behind US forces invading Iraq through its live coverage of the conflict from the perspective of Western power centres. The ‘Al Jazeera effect’ was a term first used to describe its liberating influences on the media in the Arab world. Al Jazeera Arabic, set up in 1996 and funded with no-strings-attached by a progressive Qatari emir, began airing in-depth and serious news stories, popular sentiments and debate in a way that was unprecedented for many Middle Eastern countries.

Al Jazeera English, founded in 2006, joined the Al Jazeera Network in order to have its own distinctive  ‘Al Jazeera effect’: changing the direction of major global news-flow from the global South to the global North, and giving voice to the voiceless. Its independence from commercial and political pressure is challenging the paradigm of other news networks where there is increasing corporate concentrations of media ownership.

According to Al Jazeera English’s Code of Ethics, it promotes "journalistic values of honesty, courage, fairness, balance, independence, credibility and diversity." Journalists are to provide a "clear, factual and accurate picture while giving full consideration to the feelings of victims of crime, war, persecution and disaster," and to "present the diverse points of view and opinions without bias and partiality."

Al Jazeera English is able to give a voice to the voiceless by being the most diverse news service in the world in front and behind the camera. It has found a niche by offering a distinctive "Southern global" perspective, as well as an authentic people’s view, preferring to cover wars behind civilian lines rather than being embedded along with invading troops. One of Al Jazeera English’s hosts, Josh Rushing, notes the following: "CNN films the launch of the missile. Al Jazeera films what happens where it lands."

Ahmed Mansour, an unembedded Al Jazeera reporter in the embattled city of Fallujah, Iraq, told Democracy Now! in February 2006 regarding his view of independent journalism:

"What I can say is that we did our duty as journalists [in Fallujah]… If this battle took place on the land of the US and I was the one covering it and American civilians were vulnerable to killing, I would not have done any different than what I have done at Fallujah. This is our duty toward humanity in general, as journalists, to report the truth from any place that we are in. Our role was to present the truth about what is happening to the civilians. We did that with documents and pictures, and no one could deny this. The whole world reported and transferred this truth and these facts…. The battles have to be reported from both sides. We were among the civilians…They had embedded journalists with those who launched this attack from the US forces who occupied Iraq, and they reported what they wanted. We were trying to create an equilibrium or a balance, so that the truth was not lost."

Al Jazeera English also tries to create balance with respect to a diversity of perspectives from the under-reported regions in the world. About 80% of its stories are regarding the news in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America. This is about double that of the BBC and CNN. The information package Al Jazeera English released in support of its CRTC application poignantly states that, "For years, the flow of information in the world has run from North to South, from rich countries to poor. The news agenda was set by media organizations of the West while the rest of the world, the majority of the world’s population, had to live with the result. People in South America, in Africa, in the Middle East, had to see their news through the eyes of producers and presenters in Atlanta [headquarters for CNN] or London [BBC]."

Al Jazeera, by contrast, has two broadcasting centres in developing countries (Doha and Kuala Lumpur) and two in developed countries (London and Washington). In addition, Al Jazeera has 69 bureaus around the world, almost half of which are in the global South. The number will be 70 if the CRTC approves Al Jazeera English’s application with the network’s promise to open a Canadian bureau.

Al Jazeera’s staff and reporters are as diverse as Canada. It has more than 1,200 staff from nearly 50 nationalities, including more than 45 ethnicities, constituting the most diverse news network in the world. Furthermore, a high proportion of AJE’s reporters are women, also adding to the diversity in topics and perspectives covered.

A compelling endorsement for Al Jazeera comes from Roger Cohen of the New York Times, who nicely sums up the tremendous value of AJE: "its striving for balanced reporting from a distinct perspective seems genuine". He further states: "Comparative courses in how Al Jazeera, CNN, the BBC and U.S. networks portray the Iraq war and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should be taught in all U.S. high schools and colleges. Al Jazeera English should be widely available."[ "Bring the Real World Home," November 12, 2007]

The Al Jazeera Network takes particular pride in its coverage of the Middle East. Al Jazeera English states in the CRTC Information Package the following: "Again, the goal here is not to push a line or cater to a bias. The goal is far more revolutionary: we simply want people to understand the full story, not a narrow one."

AJE’s diversity in news coverage is good for open discussion and democracy, but also for the promotion of peace and justice. Studies suggest Al Jazeera practices what scholars have recently coined as "peace journalism." Academic studies by Dr. Mohammed El-Nawawy of Queens University of Charlotte and Shawn Powers of the Annenberg School for Communication show that Al Jazeera practices a form of conciliatory media. Al Jazeera’s stories and coverage have promoted cooperation, conflict resolution, and reconciliation [see http://ajerp.com/results/]

The CRTC’s 30-day consultation period giving Canadians an opportunity to comment on AJE’s application to air in Canada ends June 8, 2009. To send a letter to the CRTC visit the Action Centre [http://www.unionvoice.org/campaign/al_jazeera]

Walied Khogali is coordinator of the Canadians for Al Jazeera (http://www.canadiansforaljazeera.ca/
) and Anita Krajnc serves on the steering committee of the Campaign for Democratic Media (http://democraticmedia.ca/aljazeera)