Saturday, June 18, 2005

The new and improved Al Jazeera 

"The Arab-language news channel, al-Jazeera, has been given a face-lift," reports BBC's Sebastian Usher. "In covering the past few years of conflict in Iraq, the Palestinian territories and Afghanistan, it has shown extremely violent and bloody images - which al-Jazeera editors say has been necessary in order to show what is really happening. But now, its senior managers and editors say they want the channel to reflect a broader range of subjects."

Well, that's a relief - the change is long overdue. So what's the new and improved Al Jazeera going to look like?
There is a new newsroom replacing the cramped old one that has been in use since al-Jazeera was set up in Qatar 10 years ago.

The newsroom now appears in shot behind the newsreaders during bulletins - showing journalists dressed both in Western and traditional Arab styles.
Ummm. So what about beheadings and live broadcasts of terrorists attacks?
Al-Jazeera's station ident has been changed.

Now, it shows a golden globe plunging into blue waves and then rising back to the surface in the form of al-Jazeera's logo.

The same globe is shown as the ident before news bulletins. The motif of blue waves is also used in programme trails.

New graphics have been introduced across the output, using softer blues and greens than the previous dominant colour, red. The effect is to give a calmer, more uniform feel to the station.
So next time you watch a beheading on Al Jazeera, its logo in the lower right hand corner of the screen will be softer and calmer. Still, blues and greens are better; red logos tend to blend too much with blood.

At the risk of repeating myself, so what about beheadings and live broadcasts of terrorists attacks?
Al-Jazeera executives say they want it to reflect a wider range of stories, including more in-depth coverage.

They say the station will now be concentrating more on human interest stories.

"Our new future direction will be to reach the human, as a human, with a human's hopes, pains and aspirations, targeting the forgotten areas that no one has tried to reach before," said chief editor Ahmed al-Shaykh.

A new programme, "This Morning", is on from 0500 to 0700 GMT, giving space to stories outside the main news agenda such as reports on the education system in Niger and the attitude of Egyptian artists to politics.
"To reach the human, as a human, with a human's hopes, pains and aspirations" - I think the American networks should adopt this motto. So are all the changes at Al Jazeera merely cosmetic, or will we see the difference? Only time will tell. But the pressures are there:
The revolution in Arab TV that [Al Jazeera] set off has produced an increasing number of rivals, such as the Dubai-based al-Arabiya and the US-backed al-Hurra. Critics have accused it of losing some of its edge.

Its financial backing comes from the Qatari government and it has yet to make a profit, but there is increasing talk of privatisation at some point in the future.
You have be concerned when an industry pioneer and giant is really a loss-making government-owned dinosaur. All I can say, thank God for competition. Al Jazeera might or might not be partly bought out by Israeli businessman Haim Saban (although it would be quite ironic if it was), but in the increasingly diverse and competitive media environment it will matter less and less.


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