August 24, 2013

Al-Jazeera's TV debut marked by American-media bashing, solid reporting

Al-Jazeera brings expertise in international reporting to television news.

You have to give Al-Jazeera America major points for chutzpah.

In the face of fears that its parent company, owned by the government of Qatar, is essentially anti-America, it launched its new network with a tear down of the American television news media. Its Tuesday debut on the network formally known as Current TV opened with an hour dedicated to Al-Jazeera America’s mission statement: Offer an intelligent, unbiased, wide-reaching alternative to the broken and pitted mess that is currently in place.

Al-Jazeera America is going to out-America everyone.

Indeed, the various reporters, executives and anchors may have avoided the term “lame stream media,” but only just. The problem was not so much the startling sight of journalists using terms like “core values,” and “your America” as it was the obvious contradiction in touting the many respected journalists it has drafted to its cause, including former CNN anchor Soledad O’Brien, ex-CBS News reporter Sheila MacVicar and former NBC News anchor John Seigenthaler.

In other words, purveyors of that American television news they spent an hour trashing. Like I said, chutzpah.

But then, that’s certainly what the network requires to overcome not just the prejudice associated with its name, but the forces that have driven so many shows to become simplified, opinionated, celebrity-driven drivel. The opening hours of Al-Jazeera America had a muted color scheme, unexciting camera work and sophomoric graphics. This may be part and parcel of a more “old fashioned” approach–let the news be the news.

But this is television, and even those of us genuinely interested in the topics don’t want to spend a half hour staring at three people quoting studies. More successful were reports from abroad, including an investigation into Wal-Mart’s use of subcontractors in Bangladesh Also, there was a refreshingly cogent explanation of the recent turmoil in Egypt.

There is, of course, plenty of good storytelling done by American television news, but Al-Jazeera, which came into prominence here for its extraordinary reporting during the Arab Spring, is a welcome addition. Still, it’s difficult not to wish they’d lay off the nationalist bunting.

There’s nothing wrong with having an expertise in international reporting. Insight into the Middle East is actually a plus, and the Americans who are going to tune into Al-Jazeera America do not have to be spoon fed a reason to do so.

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