Al Jazeera English Comes to Campus

By Kayla Burchuk

Al Jazeera English recently became available on television sets across campus.
Now, Macalester students weary of the U.S. newscasts that feature recent results of “Dancing with Stars,” domestic fear-mongering, and the insipid witty banter flooding local network news will have another option for serious international media coverage.
Although perhaps most strongly associated in the American cultural imagination with grainy video footage of Osama Bin Laden and blatant anti-U.S. propaganda, Al Jazeera offers much more for the discerning viewer. Al Jazeera English, which was launched in Nov. 2006, exists as a separate network broadcast in English out of Doha, Qatar and London, England.
Most importantly, its news coverage primarily focuses on breaking political developments and conflicts across the globe. Its footage depicts graphic images of the war in Iraq and other global crises that are filtered out of American news.

In one sitting, the Al Jazeera News Hour may cover a sewage spill in Gaza, partisan fighting in Congo’s capital, the rising death toll in Iraq, and a neo-Nazi demonstration in Germany.
Al Jazeera also broadcasts a varied array of non-news programming, such as “Everywoman,” “The Rise of the Right,” “Children of Conflict,” “The Fabulous Picture Show,” and “Assignment Earth.” These programs cover various topics from women’s perspectives, to entertainment, to environmental issues.

“A lot of people approach the channel thinking it’s just news about the Middle East,” said Elianne Farhat, ’07, co-chair of the Middle Eastern Students Association (MESA), the group responsible for the initial push to bring Al Jazeera to campus. “It will be interesting when you start watching it and you see that the world is being addressed, and how the world can be addressed in different ways.”

Al Jazeera has been made available thanks in part to Farhat and MESA’s vision, and the institutional footwork of Cem Ernaz ’07, the co-chair of the Muslim Student’s Association (MSA), and Erik Forman ’08 of the Grapevine Media Collective. The International Studies, Religious Studies, and Humanities and Media and Cultural Studies departments also co-sponsored the project.
When asked if procuring institutional support for the project was difficult, Forman replied, “Our administrators are very busy at this school and you need to be very persistent in order to help them realize that students want particular things.”
Leaders on the project hope the addition of Al Jazeera will offer students an alterative yet legitimate global news source from a different perspective. In light of the progressive attitudes of many Macalester students, the appeal of an alternative news source is apparent.
“Obviously, here at Macalester it’s a liberal spot so we’ll see what happens, but hopefully it will pick up,” speculates Farhat. “It’s a growing news source and it’s exciting for us…our generation to be able to see what I think will one day be a major news service at its beginning, and seeing how it changes.”