While Western channels focused largely on the obvious confrontation between the anti-Syrian faction that Gemayel represented and Hezbollah, AJE’s other Beirut correspondent, Zeina Khodr, provided valuable insight into the way in which the assassination had exacerbated divisions within the Christian community as well.
But the biggest difference between AJE and its competitors came as the funeral ended. It was here that Jazeera’s home court advantage came into play.
Both BBC World and CNN International (a completely separate channel from the CNN domestic U.S. service) quickly switched away to other programming. CNN-I’s anchors looked a little uncomfortable with a segue from Lebanon and the latest carnage in Iraq right into a fluff piece about the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, without so much as a commercial to buffer the jarring contrast.
AJE stayed with Lebanon, interviewing a Hezbollah spokesman, a perspective not heard on the other channels — one in a comprehensive series of interviews with the key players in the drama not seen elsewhere. AJE’s Lebanon specialist Omar al-Jassawi dug deeper into the impact on the country and region as a whole, while Middle East analyst Lamis Andoni noted that although Syria is widely presumed responsible for Gemayel’s death, plenty of other players in the region had reason to want him dead.
She also picked up on some historic references in the speech of Phalangist leader Samir Geagea, architect of the 1982 Sabra and Chatilla massacre of Palestinians and Shi’ites, that have important implications for the future but were largely overlooked on the other networks (Andoni, it should be noted, has been Al-Jazeera Arabic’s lobbyist with the Americans and Spanish over the cases of Al-Jazeera staffers currently imprisoned on terrorism charges by authorities in those countries). The discussions were facilitated by intelligent and knowledgeable prompting by Sami Zeidan, an Egyptian anchor most recently with CNBC Arabia.
The Gemayel assassination was not the first hard news reported by AJE. Since launch day, its correspondents in Gaza and Israel have been doing yeoman’s work, as have those covering the deepening chaos in Iraq. But there has been little in AJE’s reports to differentiate it from those of the competition. In Lebanon, the channel finally began to separate itself from the pack. This week’s Israel-Palestine ceasefire, extensive live coverage of the Pope’s controversial visit to Turkey, new unrest in Chad and the Ecuador elections provided more evidence that AJE is developing into a genuine alternative source for international news.
Lawrence Pintak is the director of the Adham Center for Electronic Journalism at The American University in Cairo and author of Reflections in a Bloodshot Lens: America, Islam & the War of Ideas. Email lpintak ~at~ aucegypt.edu.