Saturday, October 08, 2005

Al-Jazeera Finds Its English Voice

WaPo reported Al-Jazeera, which is launching an English-language network with Washington as a major hub, has landed its first big-name Western journalist: David Frost. And the veteran BBC interviewer says he's perfectly comfortable with the unlikely marriage.

I wonder how comfortable he will be the next time some bombs go off in the London Underground.
"I love new frontiers and new challenges," Frost, 66, said yesterday from London. He said the new network, al-Jazeera International, has promised him "total editorial control" and that he had checked out the company with U.S. and British government officials, "all of which gave al-Jazeera a clean bill of health in terms of its lack of links with terrorism."
Who in the heck in our government gave al-Jaxerra a clean bill of health in terms of its lack of links with terrorism? Where does it get the video and audio tapes from al Quaeda? Does the tape fairy bring them? Or are they just saying that they are not aware of any al Jazerra staff blowing themselves up to kill people?
But the Bush administration has repeatedly denounced al-Jazeera. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has accused the Qatar-based operation of promoting terrorism and "vicious lies" and has banned its reporters from Iraq. The State Department has complained about "false" and "inflammatory" reporting. Said Frost, who will host a weekly interview program: "For all the people who think it's anti-American, there are various countries in the Middle East who think it's too pro-Western. I would say the jury's out on al-Jazeera. Obviously, we all suffer from the handicap of not being able to sit there and watch in Arabic." The Thursday announcement of the hiring of Frost, who will continue to work for the BBC, comes as al-Jazeera is looking for a few good Americans -- anchors, correspondents and producers -- for the network as it prepares to launch early next year.
I would suggest they contact Dan Rather, who is out of a job, but then they were looking for good journalists.
From a nondescript office building on K Street, where an armed guard mans the lobby, staffers have been calling television agents about their clients. But a number of those approached, including several well-known personalities whose agent would not identify them by name, have quickly rebuffed the overture.

RantingProfs blogged Several questions: first, does "total editorial control" extend to all aspects of production? such as editing? (Will Frost control what images are shown while he is speaking?) Will Frost control his time slot, how (and whether) his show is promoted? Will Frost's show be promoted to those in the Islamic world who have heard of al Jazeera, but don't speak Arabic, and therefore don't have access to the original? or will it be used to whitewash the original al Jazeera to the non-Arabic speaking world, so that the Western world will say, "but we've seen al Jazeera, and it just isn't as bad as the Americans say?" Who truly is the audience for an English speaking al Jazeera? Has anyone asked what the goal of this project is? Because precisely the kinds of things that make al Jazeera so popular in the Arabic world -- extremely graphic footage of violence in the Palestinian territories, or violence in Iraq -- would not be likely to be particularly acceptable to large mainstream audiences in Britain or America. By definition if they want to go mainstream, the product will have to change. What, precisely, is the point of this project? Is anyone asking?

Tim Russo blogged Frost also notes that we all suffer from not being able to watch Al Jazeera in Arabic, so we should just hold our horses on the bias stuff. Not sure I buy that, but Frost is no slouch interviewer...if they put strings on his interviews, he will squeal to high heaven. British journalism is what American journalism wishes it could be...sleazy as the Sun, hard hitting as the BBC, and smarter than everybody else. Frost will quickly test his editorial limits. And his addition, a man who's place in British TV is roughly analagous to NBC's Tim Russert (very roughly....Frost towers over British news), makes me want to watch Al Jazeera International when it's launched.

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