First I want offer a big discralimer here: I almost watch no TV. I can honestly claim less than one hour of TV per week. Amazing but true. Nonetheless I was intrigued by the news coming out today about statistics showing Al-Arabiya is overtaking Al Jazeera in some Arab markets. This certainly reflects some of the sentiments of people around me. No one can ignore Al Jazeera when the news breaks. They are perceived to be the fastest in getting the news. This is certainly what I did the night Amman was bombed on November 9. But as as the events unfolded I found myself switching more and more to Al-Arabiya. A number of people I talked to said that they did the same (this is by no means statistical evidence, just a personal impression). One of the things that pissed people off was Yasser Abu Hilaleh’s reporting that mentioned that the Israeli embassy is located near the Days Inn hotel which was one of the hotels targeted.
From my talks to friends, people also seem to be frustrated by Al Jazeera’s portrayal of the Arab situation. My personal interpretation of this is that Al Jazeera’s ‘brand’ is, at least partially starting to stands for ‘bad news’, anger, overt controversy and/or sensationalism. Personally, I got really sick with Al Jazeera a few years ago, when they aired ‘Minbar Al Jazeera’ (Al Jazeera Forum), which is a viewer call-in program. People that go by names like ‘Abu Akram from Sweden’ call in with opinions that are just so extreme and mindless, like one guy suggesting a plan to destroy Israel by hiring Sri Lankan mercenaries (!) that would pump diesel into lake Tiberias and start a thousand fires across Israeli cities!
People like that get the full chance to air their views without being challenged in anyway by the Al Jazeera anchorman. When I compare that to the way the BBC’s Arabic service handles its call-in shows I can’t help but be dismayed with Al Jazeera. On the BBC everyone gets the chance to talk, including mindless extremists. But the presenters challenge all the views presented and try to balance the discussion.
This is an excerpt from the report by Worldcasting’s Alvin Snyder about the IPSOS-Stat produced study:
USC Center on Public Diplomacy | WorldCasting In a monthly charting of audience ratings prepared exclusively for Worldcasting by the premier independent Middle East television survey organization IPSOS-STAT, the Saudi government-financed Al-Arabiya surpassed Al Jazeera in audience viewer rankings for the first time in the history of the two channels. IPSOS-STAT says that in 2003 and 2004 “the gap between the two stations was very big” in Saudi Arabia, with Al Jazeera holding a significant lead.
IPSOS-STAT says that the weakening viewership of Al Jazeera is not confined to Saudi Arabia, which is inhabited by some 18 million persons, “most of whom are wealthy with high purchasing power.” The trend shows a weakening of Al Jazeera’s former lead throughout the region, with Al Arabiya getting stronger, although Al Jazeera is still leading in Kuwait, for example.
Could it be that some Middle East viewers are tiring of Al Jazeera, which is often perceived as a more “radical and Islamic” network? This image of Al Jazeera as a conduit for terrorist videos is currently being reinforced with the video obtained from kidnappers showing Jill Carroll, the Christian Science Monitor reporter who is being held hostage, and the Osama bin Laden audio tape threatening another attack on the United States.
Also read Abu Aardvark weighing in on the matter.
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