I have a dirty little secret, but I think it's time to come out of the closet:
I watch al-Jazeera. A lot. And not just because they have a cool logo.
It started by accident. BBC ran its 537th consecutive story about climate change with a follow-up on the most dramatic cricket match evar and wrapped up with a piece on the economic impact on the EU of hemorrhoids (you think I make this up? I do not).
Fox-Lite CNN is good for pretty much nothing. EuroNews is, well, French. So I was flipping around.
I started watching the weekend of the first big rally in Ankara and -- shocker! -- al-Jazeera's news program devoted a full 20 minutes to the story, actually providing analysis and insight about the dynamics of the debate over secularism in Turkey. It included an interview with an AKP spokesman in which the reporter got all up in his face when he denied AKP had an Islamist agenda in a way a CNN/BBC reporter would never dream of doing. Meanwhile, BBC had broken into their news feed with live coverage of Prince Twatwaffle's break-up with his
horse girlfriend. The following al-Jazeera story was an hour long documentary about Northern Iraq/Kurdistan and the good (stability) and bad (smuggling) that's happening there. This is news I can use.
Three things appeal to me about al-Jazeera newscast: style, substance and message.
First, style. Production values are good. The reporters are clearly professional and they all speak caramel smooth, Queen's English, even if of Arab descent (a large proportion of the news team is indeed, British). The news bumpers are very compelling (one featured pictures overlaid with text detailing the Islamic world's low female literacy rate. The tagline was something along the lines of "we report you decide" but without the banal irony that particular phrase communicates these days). It absolutely does not look like a start-up operating out of someone's cave. Serious money has been put up to make it stylistically identical to its competitors.
Second, substance. It's as if al-Jazeera hasn't figured out yet that news needs to be stupid and filled with celebrities and stories about animals to attract viewers. This results in substantive, insightful news programs. Of course the news is selected and presented from the point of view of the Gulf and focuses on issues of importance to the region. Duh! The unfortunate side effect of a commitment to "serious news" is long-winded, boring, badly-produced talk shows that are occasionally unintentionally funny. For example, this morning I watched David Frost, who has to be 157 years old, interview a young DJ from Dubai about whether he would ever use "the N word" or the "B word" in his radio broadcasts like Don Imus did. It was so painfully, ridiculously hilarious that Monty Python couldn't have done a better job.
But the thing I like most about it is that its news, promotions and
advertisements present positive images of the Islamic world, not the
hate-filled wackiness that other stations tend to focus on. Not that there's not an ample supply of fucktardery coming out of the Muslim world, it's just nice to see images of economic development in the UAE, positive stories about
Muslim women and well-spoken, attractive (ok, hot) news readers reporting on a part of the world I care about. I walk
away from it having drawn the conclusion: Muslims -- not
scary. I'm guessing that might be the point of the whole operation. If
so, good for them. More North Americans and Europeans should tune in.
I told the Producer I've been watching a lot of al-Jazeera and he suggested perhaps I was going native. I mentioned to a friend last night at a party that this is where I'm getting a lot of news. She admitted that she does as well, and for almost the exact same reasons.
Two makes a trend!