Why You Should Get Your News from Al Jazeera

[Originally Published on Elephant Journal, July 7, 2012]

CNN, MSNBC, Fox News—your television news network is lying to you.

Or at least they are doing a bad job of informing you.

Last year, during the crisis in Egypt, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton called Al Jazeera “real news,” while criticizing U.S. networks for “losing the information war.” If this statement surprises you then you are not alone.

Flickr: Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com

Flickr: Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com

Launched in 1996, Al Jazeera is an independent broadcaster based in Qatar. Originally in Arabic, Al Jazeera established its English language network in 2006. It has been praised by the Index on Censorship for bringing free information and escaping censorship in the Arab world. I had the privilege to visit the Al Jazeera English headquarters in London last fall. I was taken back and inspired by their professionalism and passion for honest, real journalism.

Americans have a serious negative perception toward the network.

This is due largely to wrongful associations with terrorist videos and Middle Eastern mistrust. The truth is that Al Jazeera is doing a better job at providing in-depth, quality journalism than any U.S. network. Nonetheless, American cable services refuse to carry Al Jazeera for cultural and political reasons.

Following the model of the BBC, CNC and NPR, Al Jazeera is funded mostly by the government of Qatar. This sounds scary, but the government takes a completely hands-off approach. After touring their operations and consuming their content, I am a believer (and so is Hilary). And if you think that American news is more independent than government subsidized news, you are sorely mistaken.

The problem with American media, from CNN to The New York Times, is that at the end of the day they have to make a profit to survive.

This does several damaging things. First, it turns the news into a popularity contest where media pander to what they think viewers want to see, rather than what they should see. Second, do you really trust media from a for-profit corporation more than one transparently funded by taxes? If you do then I suggest you drink an “American beer” like Budweiser, and watch the film Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism.

Touring their studios, I couldn’t have been more impressed. The diversity of their staff was amazing, including reporters and producers from Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas. There were several American reporters at Al Jazeera who had left U.S. news outlets fed up.

This diversity is meaningful and symbolic to Al Jazeera’s news coverage.

Unlike xenophobic, celebrity obsessed, Westen-centric media in North America and Europe, Al Jazeera’s mission is to cover the whole world equally and fairly. They have more bureaus in Latin America than CNN and the BBC, and their presence in Africa and Asia is unmatched by Westen news outlets. Al Jazeera covers Western news too, but with a balance that better represents what is actually happening in the world.

Anyone who has taken a media studies course has heard the news value that it takes 1-2 deaths to make news locally, 5-10 deaths to make news nationally, 20-50 deaths to make news internationally, and 50-100 deaths in the developing world to make news at all. That is messed up.

Not only does Al Jazeera report the news, it also has a number of outstanding and award winning series.

People and Power investigates the use and the abuse of power in all corners of the world. In Africa Investigates, local journalists dig deep into shrouded corruption across the continent. Perhaps most meaningful show to what Al Jazeera stands for is Listening Post, which examines and dissects the world’s media—that is, they report on the way news is reported.

Why should you care about the information you consume?

A healthy free press is essential to the function of a democracy and the minds of the people in it. Even if you don’t realize it, news shapes your worldview and can often distort it. As much as reporters may try, no news is truly objective. To own the information you receive, you have to consume it actively, not passively. If you take news like a hypodermic needle and not a conversation, you may be doing it wrong.



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