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Beware Al-Jazeera Coming to America
by Shoshana Bryen
Al-Jazeera is "breaking in with something we think is unique, and are confident, with our guts and some research, that the American people are looking for," according to its America's president Kate O'Brian. If she is claiming "guts" and "research" are among the qualities sought by American viewers, she may be right, although what puts Al-Jazeera uniquely in a position to provide either is unclear. In a Time.com article, Al-Jazeera political analyst Marwan Bishara worried that it would become "too American," with too many American accents and "watered down" journalism – hardly the stuff of unique "guts."
The real concern for American viewers is not the quality of the product on the screen, but rather two mostly hidden issues: the government behind the network, and the difference between Al-Jazeera's Arabic and English versions.
To Americans, Al-Jazeera purports to be the equivalent of CNN or Fox or MSNBC – an independent purveyor of news. Yes, Americans know that most media leans left and a little bit of it leans right, but the networks themselves are generally free of government manipulation. Al-Jazeera, however, is a wholly owned arm of the Government of Qatar. The State Department describes Qatar as "an hereditary constitutional monarchy governed by the ruling Al Thani family in consultation with a council of ministers, an appointed advisory council, and an elected municipal council." [In other words, a dictatorship, and the switch from the elder Al Thani last month to his son this month may be no change at all.]
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