Al-Jazeera English (2)

Let’s start with the good things. The graphics (bought in from the same company that supplied CNN International’s new makeover) looked sprightly. In the first week, two of the flagship programmes did well. 

David Frost managed to get an uncharacteristic slip out of Tony Blair on Iraq (he seemed to admit that the Iraq adventure had been a disaster). As for Riz Khan’s show, the former CNN anchor invited Nobel laureates like Harold Pinter on as well as introducing a fresh ‘developing world’ perspective on stories that we hear about every day. 

Shahnaz Pakravan’s Everywoman strand made excellent contributions to the debates surrounding how women are treated in so many developing nations. 

Only one programme was a disaster – an appalling culture-type show in which a journalist named Amanda Palmer failed to interview the new James Bond on Leicester Square’s red carpet. The programme was a patchwork of PR electronic press kits. 

As for the other ‘back half-hour’ documentaries – nothing really shone because nothing was particularly new or told in a way that threatened conventional wisdom on current events. 

A documentary on British troops training seemingly dim-witted Iraqis on the Shatt al-Arab waterway was dull at best. At worst it was shameful imperialist PR. 

But the news…oh dear, the news. Clark’s vision for the channel is that money shouldn’t be mentioned. The result is that whilst the first day saw excellent live shots from Darfur and Mogadishu, everything was dumbed down to a human interest story. 

This was children’s news that didn’t tell us about cause, just effect. No anchor seemed to think of “following the money”. Instead presenters looked dumbfounded after yet another shocking report of human misery from a place not usually covered by existing broadcasters. 

This pointillist approach is likely to leave the viewer dazed, confused and feeling disempowered by the mess the world is in. There seems to be some vague “blame George Bush/if we just understood other cultures everything would be alright” agenda without any meaningful evidence. 

It is, of course, international business that binds the world together but the channel is steadfast in its desire not to connect situations in developing world countries with the power of multinationals headquartered in G8 nations. 

This inexplicable lack of news on anything resembling corruption or finance leads to odd gaps. There doesn’t seem to be a Tokyo correspondent. On the channel’s launch day, the main news on every station was leading on predictions of a Japanese tsunami. 

Jazeera English led continuously on the Middle East: an Israeli woman had been killed by a Palestinian rocket. Since Jazeera English resolutely didn’t offer statistics from say, The Red Crescent (4,286 Palestinian deaths and 30,804 injuries since October 2000 according to their information), the channel could have even made Israel’s Ehud Olmert blush. There was no fair context to a story that Jazeera presented as an unprovoked attack on an Israeli civilian.

Because money is not mentioned on the news, Gaza again became a human interest story.

No interconnections were explained between events there and decisions in Europe (the EU has sanctions against the Palestinian Authority after the outcome of a democratic election). No connection was made with U.S. funding of Israel. As for Iraq, Rageh Omaar interviewed an official who claimed that Iraq exported $25 billion worth of oil last year. It was disappointing that instead of Omaar following up by asking what happened to all the money, his rejoinder was something like “But things aren’t going well in Iraq, are they?”.