Arab Media Forum Discussion Analyzes the ‘Al Jazeera Effect’ at AMF 2010

Published May 12th, 2010 - 02:33 GMT

Whenever Al Jazeera is accessible to an audience, they tend to find some solidarity with it, commented Adel Iskandar, Media and Communication Lecturer at Georgetown University, citing examples of a Vermont-based cable operator who were met with heavy protests when it tried to take the station off air.

“Interestingly, not all the opinions expressed in this case were those of Arabic immigrants,” added Iskandar to validate his point about the station’s success in Western markets.

Iskandar’s comments came during a seminar on ‘Arabic channels’ diffidence to speak the other language…a case study of Al Jazeera International’ as part of Arab Media Forum 2010. Reviewing Al Jazeera International’s strategy, the seminar assessed the need for Arab channels to broadcast in other languages.

Held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, AMF 2010 opened on 12 May at The Atlantis-Palm. Themed ‘Shifting Mediascape: Inspiring Content…Expanding Reach’, the event has brought together more than 2,000 media personalities and experts from Arab countries and across the world.

Session moderator Dr. Tarek Yousef, Dean of Dubai School of Government, opened the discussion asking Saleh Najm, Al Jazeera International’s Head of News, if three years down the line he regarded the channel a success.

Responding to Najm’s account of the network’s many quantifiable success indicators, Joe Conason, author and columnist of the New York Observer, said: “Al Jazeera International has definitely created a niche. While it is not influencing local opinion in America, it is widely perceived as the Arab perspective on news and is hence monitored by diplomats, the media, academics and scholars.”

James Zogby, Founder and President of the American Institute, added: “Like any other foreign news network, Al Jazeera’s impact on the American audiences’ opinion is not significant, as even Arab expatriate immigrants have a wide array of networks to choose from.”

Jorn De Cock, Middle East Editor of De Standaard, criticized Al Jazeera International of being too ‘Anglo Saxon’ in its coverage of certain issues, failing to provide the European or Middle Eastern perspective on the news.

To this Najm responded: “As identified in its mission statement, Al Jazeera International takes after the spirit of Al Jazeera (Arabic) in being editorially correct over politically correct. The network aspires to be the ‘voice of the voices’ and not necessarily the ‘Arab voice’ on issues.”

The session included speakers Adel Iskandar, Media and Communication Lecturer, Georgetown University; Jorn De Cock, Middle East Editor, De Standaard; James Zogby, Founder and President, The Arab American Institute; Joe Conason, author and columnist, The New York Observer, and Saleh Najm, Al Jazeera International’s Head of News.

Connecting with Western audiences continues to be a prominent agenda for discussion in the Arab world. While the global media has successfully reached out to the Arab diaspora in Arabic, there has been little effort on the part of Arab television platforms to reciprocate the same, with the exception of the Al Jazeera News that launched its English language channel over three years ago.

Today, there are three Western satellite channels transmitting in the Arabic language round the clock. These include the BBC Arabic from the UK, Al Hurra from the US, Russia Today from Russia, as well as Al Alam from Iran. In addition, there are several other channels transmitting in Arabic for a limited number of hours daily, including channels from China, South Korea, the EU, France, Germany and Holland.

Representing the Arab world, Al Jazeera International remains the only English language channel transmitting 24/7 at the global level.

In light of such observations, panelists examined the prominence of Al Jazeera International in the English language space; open free-to-air and constrained cable transmissions, as well as Arabic content in Al Jazeera International. The need for reaching out to new world power houses such as China, India and Brazil, and if so, who must take the initiative were also analysed at the session.

AMF 2010 has served as a crucial platform for insightful discussions on issues such as citizen journalism, sports media, the media in Asia, Arabic channels’ diffidence to expand into other languages, and the etiquette of debate on live TV.

Under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Majid Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Chairman of Dubai Culture and Arts Authority, the winners of the third edition of the Sheikh Majid Bin Mohammed Youth Media Awards received their prizes at a gala ceremony on the first day of the forum.

The Arab Media Forum 2010 will conclude on 13 May with His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid honouring the winners of Arab Journalism Awards, the region’s most coveted distinction for journalistic excellence.

Dubai Media Incorporated (DMI), Arab Media Group (AMG), Nakheel, Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM) and Emirates airline are the key sponsors for the forum.

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