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Al Jazeera America: A new kind of news

Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com/flickr

Since the founding of Fox News Channel in 1996, the American news scene has remained essentially the same. Traditionally, Fox caters to conservative audiences, ABC, CBS and NBC cater to left-leaning audiences, MSNBC caters to liberal audiences, and CNN provides more moderate views. However, in recent years, other news stations have been coming to America from foreign countries.

For University of Massachusetts students, all one needs to do is merely turn on the television to find that foreign stations, such as China’s CCTV and Germany’s Deutsche Welle, are available. Such news stations provide an entirely different variety of news than the mainstream American media do – news that isn’t, well, American.

Unlike American news broadcasters, which only run stories on the largest of international events, these news stations focus on world news, as they are the international branches of their respective news agencies. World news is given very little emphasis on American news channels, as television networks make money from advertisements, and thus by viewership rates, and people want to watch stories about pop culture and their favorite celebrities rather than about what is actually happening in the world. There is a market for world news; it just does not have the high demand the major networks want. This leaves the world news market, a sector gradually increasing in importance as the populace becomes more educated, open to foreign competition.

Riding this trend of foreign news is Al Jazeera, the most well-known news agency in the Arab world, which just recently bought Current TV, and thus access to more than 60 million American television subscribers. In the past, Al Jazeera has been criticized for broadcasting videos released by Al Qaeda and its sympathizers, and has been labeled by some as anti-American or even pro-terrorist. Some have even argued that the Qatari government – which previously owned Al Jazeera – is attempting to spread pro-Muslim propaganda in the U.S. market through this expansion.

This, of course, is ridiculous; Al Jazeera is just a news agency. One need only look at Al Jazeera’s English edition website to see what Al Jazeera America, the new branch that will provide programming for Al Jazeera’s newfound presence in the American market, will be like.

The English edition, which can be streamed for free on the Internet, provides world news, particularly in regard to the Arab world and the Indian subcontinent. The articles are rather normal and what one would expect of an international news agency. This holds true for the Arabic edition as well. In addition, Qatar, while still governed by absolute monarchy, is one of the United States’ strongest allies on the Arabian Peninsula. The country has an incredibly diverse (more than 50 percent foreign) population, and maintains a strong, flourishing domestic economy. It seems unlikely that Qatar would have a devious plot to indoctrinate the American people in radical Islam.

Regardless of the skepticism that Al Jazeera America may be biased, one ought to view this development as an opportunity to see what the Arab world sees. A world of peace and cooperation isn’t possible if we don’t know how the world is to others, and this includes their views and opinions, not just the casualty lists found in American coverage of the Middle East.

It is preposterous to require that Al Jazeera America be completely unbiased, seeing as we as a nation are perfectly content with the current status quo of obvious news bias. For informed viewers, Al Jazeera will be an opportunity to observe and understand the events and opinions of the Middle East without needing an American news agency as a middleman. After all, the purpose of watching the news is not to passively accept everything it tells you but, rather, to analyze and understand it.

Stefan Herlitz is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at sherlitz@student.umass.edu.

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