Michael Mullins. Threatened Al Jazeera more trustworthy than ‘white man’s media’

John Menadue’s blog post ‘White man’s media’ points to our media’s disproportionate coverage of terrorism in the west, where only 2.6 per cent of terrorism related deaths occur.

Our easily accessible media outlets could be on the way to becoming even whiter, with this week’s announcement that Al Jazeera is to lay off 500 staff because falling oil prices are putting the budget of its Qatar state owners into deficit. Even though many of its staff and practices are ‘white’, Al Jazeera English was set up in 2006 as an antidote to the dominant white man’s media.

The Guardian also attributes the cuts to ‘a waning enthusiasm by rulers in Doha for the soft power and foreign influence offered by the broadcaster, which says its mission is to “provide a voice for the voiceless in some of the most underreported places on the planet”.’

Al Jazeera was heavily backed by the former emir Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani. But in a generational change of attitude reminiscent of the Packers in Australia, it’s suggested his son and successor Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani is more interested in funding the 2022 FIFA World Cup than a media network ‘whose English language service has insisted on editorial independence and antagonised other states in the region with its coverage’.

Gaining traction with viewers in western countries has also proved a challenge, with Al Jazeera America being forced to close in a few weeks time, on 30 April. Significantly it’s not just mass (as opposed to niche) audiences that prefer FoxNews, SkyNews and the BBC, but the big cable operators. They control the legacy distribution platforms that remain powerful, even as the focus shifts towards smartphone and tablet apps and universal availability online.

In Australia, Foxtel includes more than a dozen news channels, but Al Jazeera is well down on its list of priorities, even though many of Foxtel’s other channels cater to niche audiences like Al Jazeera’s.

In 2009, and again in 2010, I wrote to Foxtel requesting the inclusion of Al Jazeera and was told simply that there were no plans to broadcast the channel. It seemed the exclusion was about ideology more than economics.

The 50 per cent Murdoch owned company did eventually include it in their lineup but only when it began a practice of raising revenue by charging certain state owned news organisations to carry their channels. These included China’s CCTV and Russia Today.

It’s easy to criticise what we commonly regard as the propaganda on such channels without also questioning what we’re told by the likes of the widely trusted BBC and our own ABC (including that deaths from terror incidents are rampant in the west). But, Muslim Brotherhood sympathies notwithstanding, It’s arguable that the threatened Al Jazeera is doing a better job of presenting fair and balanced news than either the propaganda of CCTV and Russia Today or the trusted white man’s media products consumed by the masses in the west.

Michael Mullins co-taught the course International Media Practice at Sydney University in 2008.

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