Al Jazeera in English

There’s no doubt what the most intriguing media launch of the year will be. There’s now a likely launch date of ‘late April or May’ for Al Jazeera International, the English-language channel from the (in)famous Arabic news network. A piece in today’s Guardian announces Rageh Omaar as their latest signing, alongside David Frost, Stephen Cole and Osama bin Laden. 🙂
I’m genuinely surprised to see they haven’t changed the channel’s name. English-language culture is so used to being dominant, it’s going to sound odd hearing someone say in English, with the most Home Counties of accents, ‘you’re watching Al Jazeera International’ (or even ‘AJI’). And being realistic, the brand doesn’t start with a clean reputation – fair or otherwise. The Guardian reveals:

‘During the course of a day, AJI will follow the sun around the globe, broadcasting for four hours from Kuala Lumpur, 11 hours from Doha, five hours from London and four from Washington. Each team, more or less, will determine its own news agenda.’

… which sounds like a fascinating concept, although not too far removed from the practicalities of something like Sky News, with its various shifts through the day.
Most intriguing will be its use of external contributors. It could – conceivably – become a model of delegated, if not exactly ‘citizen’ journalism. Its website for contributors promises:

‘Al Jazeera International Programme Department will not have legions of in-house producers. Instead we want to make the best freelancers and independents a part of the organisation. To enable this we have created this extranet commissioning system which will allow and encourage journalists worldwide to pitch stories and receive rapid decisions… Underlying all this is the channel’s mission to explain the world through the eyes of real people. From the specific to the general, the camera on location to the debate in the studio. But witnesses, on camera, come first.’

What impact will it have? Well, you can’t exactly argue with Al Jazeera’s brand recognition. 😉 Its web presence ranks among the world’s top 250, although the English-language web service only accounts for 8% of its total traffic. It’s going to be a hard sell, but they have a good balance of old faces and new thinking. With no legacy to hold it back, and a maverick reputation to maintain, it’ll certainly be interesting to observe, if not to watch.