U.S. Secretary of State Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified before the U.S. Senate on March 2 that Al Jazeera is gaining more prominence in the U.S. because it offers "real news" – something she said American media are falling far short of doing. And it’s not just about covering the Middle East; we first noticed it in Al Jazeera English’s respectable internationalist focus on the 2009 UN Climate Summit, which most U.S. media essentially ignored.
HuffPost reported March 3 (check out the video here):
Clinton was speaking before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and she said the U.S. is losing the "information war" in the world. Other countries and global news outlets, she said, were making much more inroads into places like the Middle East than American media were. One of the reasons she cited for this was the quality of channels like Al Jazeera. The channel, she said, was "changing peoples' minds and attitudes. And like it or hate it, it is really effective." U.S. news, she added, was not keeping up.
"Viewership of Al Jazeera is going up in the United States because it's real news," Clinton said. "You may not agree with it, but you feel like you're getting real news around the clock instead of a million commercials and, you know, arguments between talking heads and the kind of stuff that we do on our news which, you know, is not particularly informative to us, let alone foreigners."
I've had a bit of experience with Al Jazeera English TV, which has studios in Doha (Qatar), London, and Washington, DC. Al Jazeera English so far has extremely limited exposure on U.S. cable TV, but is available in more than 100 million homes worldwide and is streamed live online. Its 24/7 coverage of recent and current developments in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and throughout the Middle East has been exceptionally valuable for reportage and very interesting and, to me, inspiring as a model of engaged journalism. But its international coverage, internationalist perspective, and interest in wide-ranging issues goes far beyond the politics of a particular region, and offers a striking contrast with the U.S.-centric parochialism of most of the U.S. news media’s topical coverage and range of viewpoints.
With regard to climate change issues, I first noted in September 2009 that there was a significant difference between how the U.S. news media and Al Jazeera English covered the one-day UN Climate Summit in New York City, at which President Obama and numerous other governmental leaders spoke. I posted on it (“Most US media coverage of UN Climate Summit underplayed message of why the need for action is urgent”). Some of the mainstream U.S. media coverage was fairly decent; in particular the Washington Post carried relevant stories. But what was most notable was that Al Jazeera paid serious attention to the event during the day, while U.S. media ignored it for the most part.
In his speech at the Climate Summit, Obama said more than we’re used to hearing him say about the threat posed by global climate disruption. The speech, which was perhaps Obama’s clearest public statement on the urgency of the problem, was hardly noted in the U.S. news media. Although Obama’s speech included a broad and unequivocal warning about the far-reaching impacts of climate change, much of the U.S. news coverage of the Summit bypassed this message, giving scant attention to the scientific reality behind the call for deep emissions cuts and aid to developing countries.
With the typical U.S.-centric preoccupation of U.S. media, CNN cut to the Summit live for less than 10 minutes, just long enough to cover Obama’s speech, then quickly came back and moved on to another story, without analysis or even comment on the speech or the Summit. No other network showed the speech at all. Al Jazeera English, in contrast with CNN, MSNBC, Fox, and C-Span, covered the addresses to the Summit by President Hu Jintao of China, Prime Minister Hatoyama of Japan, President Sarkozy of France, and other government leaders, and by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Chairman Pachauri. Needless to say, the plaintive rebuke of the other leaders by President Nasheed of the Maldive Islands—one of the world’s lowest-lying countries, with about 300,000 people living mainly on land less than two meters above sea level, threatened with being engulfed by rising sea level—passed unremarked. The event, and the words of Obama and other world leaders, went largely unattended-to by Americans.
Since September 2009, I have taken the opportunity to make a small contribution to Al Jazeera English’s coverage of climate change by providing commentary on a number of occasions. A few examples, in video and transcript form:
The IPCC and recommendations for ‘fundamental reform’ (September 3, 2010)
Are 2010 weather extremes a sign of global climate change? (August 13, 2010)
Copenhagen post-mortem (January 9, 2010)
Obama, Copenhagen, and the need for straight talk on climate (November 28, 2009)
The UN Climate Summit: "We're very far from where we need to be" (September 23, 2009)
Al Jazeera blacked out across most of the U.S. (Ryan Grim, Hufffington Post, January 30, 2011)
Cable companies: Add Al Jazeera English now (Jeff Jarvis, BuzzMachine, January 30, 2011)