One of the highlights of the Terana Summit, which whisked me away to Doha for the past week, was our trip to Al Jazeera. After the requisite tour of Al Jazeera Arabic and Al Jazeera English, not to mention the 'museum area' featuring ancient (it's from the 90's!) Al Jazeera gear and the last effects of Al Jazeera journalists who died when American forces bombed the Baghdad bureau, we headed into a meeting room to chat with the new media team. I'll post a more detailed rundown of that conversation later.
For now, let me direct you to some videos (shot by yours truly) of the next discussion, featuring some more big-whig characters, like Satnam Matharu, the Director of International Relations and Communications, Aref Hijawi, Director of Programs at Al Jazeera Arabic and TV presenter/anchor Ghida Fakhry, who looks exactly as glamorous in person as she does on TV. She explained the relationship between Al Jazeera Arabic and Al Jazeera English, something that has confused the channel's oldest and newest fans alike. Aref Hijawi spoke, er, shouted very candidly about the Palestine Papers, which he called Al Jazeera's biggest mistake to date.
The rest of the discussion was dominated by one of the lingering questions about Al Jazeera: is their main goal to report the news, or is it to influence what happens on the ground? What does it mean to be impartial? Do Al Jazeera reporters want to be impartial?
Another strand of that discussion revolved around whether it was fair to call Al Jazeera the "Fox News" of the Arabic-speaking world. Of course, the answer from everyone at Al Jazeera was a resounding 'no.' Matharu emphasized what he saw as the difference between Fox News and Al Jazeera: one imposes an ideology from top down, the other - if it encourages action - encourages action only through the voices of ordinary people and the reality on the ground. I began to wonder how a similar discussion with Fox News representatives might go....