Saturday, September 12, 2009

Al Jazeera News as Globalization

Robert Kaplan of the Atlantic Monthly is one of my favorite journalists--even when I disagree with the gist of his stories. He travels incessantly, writes passionately, and speculates widely, about all things global. And now he's just published an interesting piece entitled "Why I Love Al Jazeera." Good stuff.

After summarizing recent news coverage at the English language version of Al Jazeera International, he discusses the benefits of getting one's news from a more globally minded source. Like a good journalist, he also raises some concerns about AJ--describing its influence as "insidious"--but he suggests that he'll be watching them more often than American media outlets to get a true picture of world events.

In the book, I briefly mention Al Jazeera International as an example of the complex media environment produced in a globalizing world:

"A small indicator of the complexity of cultural globalization is the fact that one can now view the Arabic network al-Jazeera’s news programs in English in the United States" (p. 10).

The program is produced in the small Gulf state of Qatar, broadcast in English, and beamed around the world via cable, satellite, or internet video.

According to Kaplan,

Over just a few days in late May, when I actively monitored Al Jazeera (although I watched it almost every evening during a month in Sri Lanka), I was treated to penetrating portraits of Eritrean and Ethiopian involvement in the Somali war, of the struggle of Niger River rebelsagainst the Nigerian government in the oil-rich south of the country, of the floods in Bangladesh, of problems with the South African economy, of the danger that desertification poses to Bedouin life in northern Sudan, of the environmental devastation around the Aral Sea, of Sikh violence in India after an attack on a temple in Austria, of foreign Islamic fightersin the southern Philippines, of microfinancing programs in Kenya, of rigged elections in South Ossetia, of human-rights demonstrations in Guatemala, and of much more. Al Jazeera covered the election campaigns in Lebanon and Iran in more detail than anyone else, as well as the Somali war and the Pakistani army offensive in the Swat Valley. There was, too, an unbiased one-hour documentary about the Gemayel family of Christian politicians and warlords in Lebanon, and a half-hour-long investigation of the displacement of the poor from India’s new economic zones.

Compare this coverage of the globe--by a globalized network--to the coverage by U.S.-based networks: I didn't notice a single story in Kaplan's list about Hollywood celebrities!

P.S. If you think Kaplan's off his rocker, then check out the archived blog posts on Al Jazeera by George Washington University professor Marc Lynch, aka Abu Aardvark. Professor Lynch has been tracking Arab media for years, keeping tabs on Al Jazeera and female Arabic pop music stars (he had a crush on Lebanese singer Nancy Ajram).

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