The press is full of speculation about a possible flotation for Al Jazeera –” something that would obviously endanger the Arab-language station’s independence, not least because of the possibility of Saudi or U.S. share involvement leading to editorial meddling.
But there is a far more sinister hand at work at the fledgling sister channel, Al Jazeera International. In the pipeline for years, the English language station has recruited four managers to oversee the launch. It’s important that one bears in mind the context of the appointments. For the station to sure up the valuable brand “Al Jazeera”, the new channel will have to be distinctive. Al Jazeera Arabic employees have been quick to reveal that they believe the channel could only succeed if it gave vent to all those voices that are hardly on the other main international networks: Sky, CNN International and BBC World.
1). The head of news is Steve Clarke whose greatest claim to fame is that he produced the extreme right wing, pro-Ariel Sharon columnist, Richard Littlejohn, for Rupert Murdoch’s Sun newspaper.
2). The overall head of Al Jazeera International is to be Nigel Parsons, an ex-salesman from a picture wire agency that like Reuters is oriented firmly against a developing nation perspective.
3). Sue Phillips, someone who ran an office for the Canadian Broadcast company before leaving to start a relatively unsuccessful event management company, organising conferences to promote countries with poor records of freedom of speech, such as Kazakhstan (see the International Press Institute’s website).
4). Paul Gibbs, who after a failed production company and a career at the BBC in which he was known as a wheeler and dealer went on to internet recruitment businesses.
In Hugh Miles’ book on Al Jazeera, he quotes two prominent employees, Jihad Ballout and Yosri Fouda who seem sceptical about the English channel. However, Ballout says that the channel could be a force for developing nations. Why then is there no sign of English language journalists such as Robert Fisk, Frank Gardner, Afshin Rattansi, Andrew Gilligan, John Pilger, Vandana Shiva, Seumas Milne, Jon Snow, Vandana Shiva, Walden Bello or Hugh Miles, himself. Surely, journalists who have been at the forefront of a different, developing world perspective should be to the fore in such a channel, not those who have championed Israel or worked for Saudi-backed interests? There are scores of journalists who have been whistleblowers or championed understanding between cultures and perspectives that would be unique in the current news environment.
With such a financial interest, there is more than a whiff of Gulf Arabs in London in the seventies being taken for a ride. A google search reveals the four managers have been in Kazakhstan recently and Nigel Parsons is on record as aiming for the channel to emulate the BBC. Unless the Emir of Qatar wakes up to fact that his channel is being hijacked, Jazeera risks both its brand being tarnished and a good deal of money being washed down the drain. And a few smiles on the faces of Israeli soldiers in the occupied territories.