Future of Al Jazeera
By Wadah Khanfar,
managing director of Al Jazeera.
past seven years Al Jazeera has introduced a new culture and
a new paradigm into the Arab world. A culture and a paradigm
that rest upon the free exercise of journalism and public affairs
broadcasting. During the early days of Al Jazeera it was something
exciting to have Arab opposition leaders appearing on our screens.
It was the first time that the Arab audience would listen to
people ready to criticize Arab governments in public.
broke all the taboos of Arab political life. However after seven
years we need to undertake a deep evaluation of our programs,
our news bulletins, our style of reporting, our talk shows and
to again take a leading role in Arab media. Why? Because a significant
number of pan-Arab satellite channels have followed in the steps
of Al Jazeera and have introduced a similar style of news reporting
and of talk show and in order not to fall into the trap of stagnancy
and imitation (even if we are imitating ourselves) we need to
press forward with a new vision, a more dynamic attitude, and
a more open style.
to learn from international media the international standards
of broadcasting especially in areas of technology, graphic design,
and even the style of news reporting.
already defined a limited number of policies for the next phase.
The first policy is "professionalism," not just as
a slogan but as a commitment that will be implemented. And this
is why we have started the Al Jazeera Center for Training and
Development to provide our journalists with the best methodologies
and techniques of media work.
policy is to establish methods of planning; of taking the pulse
of our audience-of the greater public-scientifically. So far
most Arab media are indifferent to this so we must develop these
methods-of research and planning, of strategic thinking, a school
of thought in the Arab World based on a rational understanding
of what media is all about and how to develop media along such
lines yet keep it rooted in the Arab World
policy concentrates on the image. We have a lot of talk shows.
Some are very long, and some are strictly into "talking
heads." They do not employ visuals and we are primarily
a visual medium. So we will focus more on documentaries, investigative
reporting, and news magazines.
not least, we want to re-introduce the primary importance of
field reporting, which is, in the end, the meat and potatoes
so to speak of TV journalism, and without which no channel that
calls itself a news channel can justify itself, no matter how
popular its talk shows. An informed opinion be it public opinion
or the opinion of opinion-makers (either category of which are
viewers) depends upon accurate information which is most credible
when it comes from the field. The studio in TV journalism is
the supporting mechanism not the substance or even vehicle of
substance of journalism. The journalistic vehicle of substance
is field reporting
already on our way in applying this most important principle.
Al Mashhad al Iraqi ("The Iraqi Scene") was a talk
show anchored by a man who had never left the studio for seven
years, but he had a solid journalistic background. Now he is
out in the streets of Baghdad, riding in taxis, walking the
streets, and wherever he is he is talking with the people. The
former anchor and now the producer-reporter for this show is
Abdul Kader Iyyad.
other shows based on field reporting and a documentary approach
have been launched over the past month. We are also launching
new bureaus overseas and in the Arab world. For example in the
past few weeks we opened a bureau in Casablanca, where we had
a correspondent but not a full bureau, and we will be opening
a full bureau in Ankara as well as strengthening our bureaus
in Egypt, in Tripoli, Libya, and in Beirut. We have opened a
bureau in Tokyo and we will be developing our coverage in Central
Asia. I was in Tokyo early in April. We have also just started
up a bureau in Beijing and we have placed a correspondent in
expanding globally because for us the competition is not Al
Arabiya. They may have been set up to compete with us, but for
us the competition (and I say this in the collegial spirit of
friendship and cooperation) is BBC World service and CNN International
because we see ourselves as a global broadcaster on the merits
of our coverage and the fullness of our vision
have major expansion projects. We are expanding as a network
rather than as a specific news channel and we differentiate
between our news channel and our other channels. Our news channel
is Al Jazeera Satellite Channel. We already launched the Sports
Channel on November l, 2003, and we are planning to launch a
documentary channel, perhaps by the end of this year. Further
down the road there are plans for a Children's Channel and an
English-language all news channel.
have a network in which several of the channels-such as Children,
Sports, and Documentaries-are not necessarily controversial,
we should be able to offer alternatives to the advertising community
which until now has largely looked the other way for political
reasons, despite our overwhelming superiority in demographics.
At the same time, we are thinking of this programming as income
generating. We will produce as well as screen documentaries.
We will produce as well as transmit children's programming and
of course an English-language news channel with its own unique
niche in the English-speaking world, in fact in most of the
world, since the international language of our day is English.
We expect we will be recognized as such by advertising agencies,
because this niche is beyond regional politics and their unfortunate
a lot on our plate and the future is bright. TBS