Thursday, October 13, 2011

Al Jazeera ex-Chief On People Power

The message that Al Jazeera sent to its Egyptian viewers at the height of the protests in Tahrir Square sums up the unique Al Jazeera approach: "If the authorities have banned our reporters from working, then every single one of you is an Al-Jazeera reporter." This approach to reporting in which the people are at the heart of the editorial policy was the central theme of former director general of Al Jazeera, Wadah Khanfar’s lecture at City University.

Khanfar explained that the network’s call to its viewers in Egypt to act as its reporters led to hundreds of activists providing Al Jazeera with a constant stream of news and video via social networking sites. They succeeded, he argued, “in breaking the siege imposed by the Egyptian security apparatuses, thanks to the faith our viewers had in our mission and to our faith in their capabilities.” Khanfar has been at the forefront of a new way of viewing the media which, he passionately explained in his lecture, was a mission of serving the public interest. Siding with the people, he said, was essential for his profession to avoid becoming a commodity to be sold and to ensure that people trusted them as a source for change.

The concern now is whether Al Jazeera lives up to these bold words to continue to set a higher standard for others within the industry, since Khanfar has been replaced as director general by member of the Qatari royal family and executive of Qatargas, Sheikh Ahmed bin Jassim Al Thani. The question is whether with its new leadership Al Jazeera will be able to maintain its reputation as a source free of censorship and free of government control.

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