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Al Jazeera in Africa

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written for the APC blog

What do you think of Al Jazeera

On the second day of the Highway Africa conference they did a short "Hot Seat" exercise, they picked 4 journalists from different parts of the continent (no one from the north though) and asked them a bunch of questions about the state of African media.

One of the questions was "What do you think of Al Jazeera?"

Now this was a surprising question but in my opinion it was a very smart one, first it was a good test of how connected African media practitioners are with other places in the world. It seems that many didn't even know what Al Jazeera was.

But what interested me was to find out whether African journalists have some perception or opinion about Al Jazeera based on views expressed in western media (I think there was only one other Arabic speaker in the conference so I just assumed no one actually watched Al Jazeera).

To my surprise (and delight) no seemed to hold an opinion based on a second hand opinion by some clueless American hack.

But what was more surprising was the positive praise Al Jazeera got, praise is an understatement. Someone from SABC (the south african public tv network) talked about how they are getting to rely on Al Jazeera to provide them with footage and information about what goes on in the rest of the world more than networks like CNN or BBC. He specifically mentioned their coverage of the Iraq and Lebanon war and how much more balanced it was, he bashed embedded journalists.

But it was Bheki Khumalo (an ex politician who now works for Siemens) who made my day. He had prepared a presentation entitled "Visioning Africa" and opened the presentation by talking about Al Jazeera, comparing them to the "Bang Bang Club" (a group of South African journalists who gave their lives covering news from the front line). He mentioned various examples of US army attacks against Al Jazeera journalists and buildings and he praised Al Jazeera reporters' courage and determination.

So it seems that it isn't just us who consider Al Jazeera such an important and positive development.

I do hope Al Jazeera knows how well it is received in different places in Africa and that their upcoming English channel would put some focus on the continent. They did great work covering stuff like Ugandan elections but I'd love to see more.

also read Ahdaf Soueif on Al Jazeera


"aljazeera well balanced"??? excuse me?

why do we call some who is biased and say stuff that we like 'balanced'?

eh read again that isn't me talking I'm telling you what people said in the conference. go ask SABC why they think Al Jazeera is more balanced.

well, yeah.

but there was some implict agreement from you on that post :)

I suppose, but the post is not about whether Al Jazeera is balanced or not and I'm not interested in debating you on it, the post is about the surprizing realization that journalists from diverse African countries, the South African equivalent to the BBC and at least on South African politician share this view.

that in itself is a worthy piece of information regardless of your opinion about Al Jazeera.

and I do consider a bias to humanity part of being balanced thank you.

Hello Alaa,

I came over to your blog today searching for earlier work you had written about the expulsion of Sudanese refugees from Cairo on New Years Eve 2005/2006 (via a link from my friend Ethan Zuckerman's blog).

It is not unusual that journalists and media professionals in sub-Saharan Africa would find Al Jazeera a refreshing new source of news and information, but why do you think that "Westerners" (presuming you mean Americans, especially) have some distorted view of the network? Another question: Were the African journalists at the Highway Africa DIC conference referring to Al Jazeera's satellite TV news network and/or the Al Jazeera website? Which one do they visit the most?

I personally don't watch Al Jazeera TV news here in Europe or spend a great deal of time at their English-language website, but I have choices, lot's of them, and news from Al Jazeera is not a priority for me. I do communicate with a researcher for Al Jazeera in Qatar via my blog, and I read his posts that reference the Al J website regularly.

I found this passage in your post to be most humurous: "But it was Bheki Khumalo (an ex politician who now works for Siemens) who made my day. He had prepared a presentation entitled "Visioning Africa" and opened the presentation by talking about Al Jazeera..."

Siemens AG (Germany) is one of the most targeted multi-nationals presently working with the Government of Sudan by various Sudan divestment campaigns. Anything that their ex-politician turned company spokesman Bheki Khumalo says is null-and-void for lots of people including his "Visioning Africa" presentation.

Did he show any powerpoint slides of Siemens vision$$$ for the Sudan? How did he even get into the conference? Don't tell me, the South African organizers of the DIC Indaba invited him. Figures.

they where talking about the TV channel.

the thing is everyone has an opinion about Al Jazeera even those who don't watch it, those who don't know any arabic and won't get it if they even tried to watch it, yet somehow they have an opinion.

also Al Jazeera get's alot of attention in US media it seems to be portrayed as Jihad TV or something, and well that's just plain stupid.

As for Mr. Bheki yeah even his speech had alot of contradictions, he was obviously there as part of the Highway Africa conference (and not the blogging Indaba) and yeah half the speakers where there cause their organizations helped financed the conference (it was horrible).

but regardless of who he is and why he was there his words where representative of what others where saying.

to me his talk was the most interested but that's probably because it was my first encounter with the new black elite.

Thank you Alaa for such a level-headed response to my enquiries. I felt that I was probably being a bit too sarcastic and cynical in my comment, but you handled it well.

There was an analysis report completed recently on Al Jazeera's reporting styles, accuracy, quality of news etc. that was quite positive about the new network. I thought that the report was published at The Globalist website, but I can't seem to find it.

On the other hand, the AIM (Accuracy in Media) media watchdog foundation has published a report in August 2006 titled "Terror Television: the Rise of Al Jazeera and Hate America Media". You can read an article about the report at the following URL:

It seems as if these folks at AIM really have-it-in for Al Jazeera & Co. I wonder what they (AIM) think about sub-Saharan Africa news media and African journalists reporting on America and global policy issues?

being criticized by AIM is in my book a good thing, hell they thought Pinochet was the best thing ever.

I wouldn't trust a news source that wasn't criticized by AIM.

i have a small comment on all of your blog posts, why don't you watch the language and slang used here?

i still can't recommend your site to other people coz of that noisy words!! please respond