I watch Al Jazeera English pretty much constantly these days – another hangover from the Revolution. I wasn’t always impressed with its revolution coverage, which struck me as unnecessarily emotive at times. Call me old-fashioned but I still believe that us journos need to strive for objectivity, as impossible as that may be in practice.
But its coverage in general is tremendous. There’s a freshness about its perspective that’s always invigorating. CNN is simpIy too… American for me – though I was forced to watch it for a time when I was having problems with my satellite dish and, in fairness, it was much better than I expected. And while I appreciate the good old Beeb and its World Service, the rigid format feels increasingly tired and stale – the antithesis of what rolling news should be about.
Al Jazeera on the other hand offers a genuinely unique – dare I say, third world – perspective on what’s happening in the world. I love the fact that it strives to use native reporters, for example: after years of watching the same old white faces covering the developing world, it’s incredibly affirming to see Sri Lanka covered by a Sri Lankan reporter, or Pakistan, India, South America, Africa – all covered in fresh and interesting ways by people who actually have some link to the area. Or take its documentaries and strands like the wonderful Surprising Europe – a series that covers Europe from an African immigrant perspective. That may sound tiresomely ‘right-on’ but if you haven’t seen this yet, I urge you to. Put simply, Al Jazeera reaches the parts that other news channels simply don’t bother with.
But having said all that, why, oh why did it choose to devote virtually an entire day to coverage of the 9/11 anniversary in the US? I watch Al Jazeera because I’m usually confident that I’m going to see things that wouldn’t be touched by the other networks, instead of which I was regaled by a steady diet of 9/11 commemoration, from Paul Simon and James Taylor singing – both singers, incidentally, that I love – to endless speeches from everyone involved.
Americans have the right to mark this day exactly as they choose to – but does the rest of the world really need to see the minutiae of their day? Writing from a region in turmoil – no journalistic licence here – where Gaddafi’s on the run, Syrians and Yemenis continue to revolt, Mubarak’s trial kicks off again and Egypt and Israel attempt to mend fences – not to mention the renewed state of emergency here in Egypt – was there really nothing else to report on? By all means, cover the anniversary or, better still, show us some timely documentaries about how the world’s been impacted since then. But endless live coverage of every detail taking place serves only to re-enforce the gaping divide between Americans and the rest of the world.
9/11 was a terrible, traumatic event – I still vividly remember watching those images of the plane crashing into the towers and the apocalyptic feeling that descended on us at the time. And there’s no doubt that what happens in America affects us all – Iraq and Afghanistan are testament to that. But the simplistic narrative propagated by Bush and his cronies – those dichotomies of good v bad, innocent v evil, etc – echoed by many of the speakers today (check out Joe Biden’s speech if you want an example) – is irresponsible at best, in light of everything that’s happened since. Nearly three thousand people lost their lives on 9/11. More than 200,000 people lost their lives in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts – at a conservative estimate. And these conflicts are ongoing.
9/11 may have been unique in its conception but it was horrifyingly predictable in its outcome – a tragic and unnecessary loss of ‘ordinary’ life. Setting it apart in some way or viewing it as the pinnacle of evil, as the prevalent narrative suggests, and coverage like this promotes, cheapens the deaths of all those ordinary citizens who lose their lives daily in equally unnecessary, appalling acts of violence – whether state-sanctioned or terrorist.
Al Jazeera – I expect better from you.