That same month, word began circulating in the al-Jazeera newsroom that Sheikh Hamad had stepped in and ordered Parsons to regroup, hire more Arabs and ensure the station reflects more of an Arab worldview. It is notable that there has been a sudden flurry of announcements of new Arab hires at AJI, including al-Jazeera’s Cairo bureau chief, Amr el-Kahky, who shifted over to the English channel despite a previous ban on poaching from the Arabic service. Where staff in Washington had been told there would be a strong emphasis on Latin America in the D.C.-based portion of the broadcast day, AJI this week announced an Arab broadcaster and columnist had joined as Washington-based anchor.
Parsons says there are more announcements of Arabs — or people of ethnic Arab origin — to come. “It’s not as if we have ‘quotas,’” he explains, “but suffice to say that a significant number of on-air presenters are Arabic.” He also estimates about half the Doha-based senior editorial staff will consist of ethnic Arabs, and there has been a concerted effort to break down the walls of suspicion between al-Jazeera staff and their English-language siblings, with social events like family cookouts and joint committees to enhance cooperation.
So when will AJI go on the air? Parsons says he’s hoping the technicians will finish up in May and hand over the studios so the news staff can start working out the bugs. Meanwhile, around the world, programs are being shot and edited for the day the switch is finally thrown.
As Parsons told me, “We will be judged by what we broadcast, not by when we start.”
Lawrence Pintak is director of the Adham Center for Electronic Journalism at The American University in Cairo and publisher/senior editor of the Journal of Transnational Broadcasting Studies. His most recent book is Reflections in a Bloodshot Lens: America, Islam & the War of Ideas. He can be reached at lpintak ~at~ aucegypt.edu.