Saturday, March 29, 2008

Change of Heart

A couple of years ago--and with considerable fanfare--the Arab news channel Al-Jazerra--announced its expansion into the U.S. market. It opened a Washington bureau, and unveiled plans for English-language programming, anchored by such well-known "journalists" as David Frost and Dave Marash.

More than a few media types questioned their decision to join Al-Jazerra. Afterall, the Qatar-based network has a reputation as a terrorist mouthpiece, airing Al Qaida audio and video tapes with nary a hint of criticism. But Mr. Marash, a veteran of ABC's Nightline, as well as local news jobs in New York and Washington, D.C., bristled at the suggestion that he was working for a propaganda outlet, one that was consistently critical of U.S. policies in the Middle East. As he told Verne Gay of Newsday (h/t: Newsbusters):

[the] conventional and, dare I say, informed opinion is that the channel is thoroughly respected."

Two years later, Dave Marash has apparently had a change of heart. Thursday, he announced his resignation from Al-Jazerra, saying his departure was "due in part to an anti-American bias at the network." As AP television writer David Bauder reports:

Marash was the highest-profile American TV personality hired when the English language affiliate to Al-Jazeera was started two years ago in an attempt to compete with CNN and the BBC. He said there was a "reflexive adversarial editorial stance" against Americans at Al-Jazeera English.

"Given the global feelings about the Bush administration, it's not surprising," Marash said.

But he found it "became so stereotypical, so reflexive" that he got angry

In response to Marash's resignation, an Al-Jazerra executive offered the usual blather:

Will Stebbins, Washington bureau chief for Al-Jazeera English, denied any bias against Americans.

"We certainly evaluate U.S. policy rigorously," he said. "But we do our best to give everyone a fair shout."

Al-Jazeera English has been largely unsuccessful in getting U.S. cable or satellite systems to pick it up, except for the municipal cable system in Burlington, Vt., and a small system visible in Toledo and Sandusky, Ohio. But its programming is available on the network's YouTube

We commend Mr. Marash for his decision--we only wonder what took him so long. The idea that Al-Jazerra would give everyone a "fair shout" is as laughable today as it was in 2006. Still, Marash signed the contract, and (in his words) saw network managers reject most of his ideas. Apparently, even the suggestions of a liberal American journalist are inconsistent with Al-Jazerra's editorial policy. And they wonder why U.S. audiences--and cable operators--aren't exactly flocking to their product.


Cannoneer No. 4 said...

Al Jazeera English Service is better television than CNN International and BBC World put together. Last year I had occasion to compare all three watching Thai cable TV. 52 channels with 10 in English. The “presenters” on al Jazeera aren’t any more overtly anti-American than on the other two stations, and since I had no expectations of objectivity from them it took less effort on my part to watch them with a sceptical eye.

I'm glad the English Service is imploding. The DNC would have loved to run campaign commercials on it.

OldSarg said...

It must have been lonely for him, being much like a man without a country.