The overarching title of AJE’s coverage, “War On Gaza,” telegraphed the channel’s perspective—“on” not “in” was a conscious choice. The reporting reflected a distinct attitude; an implicit sense of identification with the Palestinian victims—the civilians, not the Hamas fighters—evident, for example, in a crawl at the bottom of the screen listing the names and ages of some of the more than 300 Palestinian children killed.
But it is an engaged journalism borne of empathy that, to this viewer’s mind, stopped short of betraying an overt bias against Israel—much to the disappointment of some Arabs, such as a guest columnist in Qatar’s As Sharq newspaper, who charged that “the English-language channel either consciously or unconsciously is moving within the orbit of the Israeli approach.”
AJE’s correspondents inside Israel—veterans of the BBC, ITN and CNN—have been aggressive in their approach, as in reporter James Bays’s questioning of Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, but they have also not shied away from reporting on the impact of Hamas missiles on Israeli citizens.
AJE, which is currently advertising to hire more than forty additional staffers, is aggressively stepping into the breach left by the American networks, which have largely abandoned the Middle East. A few weeks before the Gaza crisis broke, CBS News fired most of the staff of its Israel bureau. ABC recently cut a deal to use the BBC’s reporting from Baghdad. The evening newscasts of ABC, CBS, and NBC together gave just 434 minutes of airtime to Iraq in 2008, according to the Tyndall Report, and there were days in the first two weeks of the Gaza war when the networks did not bother to air a piece on the conflict.
They are, essentially, ceding reporting of the region (and much of the world) to others. Ironically, in the long run, given the U.S. networks’ track record in recent years, that may be a good thing—if these alternatives become more available to the average American. For the moment, BBC America is seen on some cable systems, CNN-I cannot be viewed inside the U.S., and, with a few localized exceptions, Al Jazeera English is only available streamed online via Livestation and YouTube.
The kind of borderless journalism these channels increasingly offer creates the potential to replace the myopic coverage that has fueled misunderstanding since 9/11.
It is a style of journalism in which worldviews are not quite so fixed, audiences are exposed to more than just their own preconceived notions, and a new definition of balance just might be found.