LONDON - The appearance of an English-language service from al-Jazeera television
will mark more than expansion of a company; it will come as one of the biggest
challenges yet to the dominance of Western news providers, academics say.
"The forthcoming launch of al-Jazeera International, the English-language
edition of the pan-Arabic news network, is likely to influence the way television
news is received in newsrooms around the world," Prof. Daya Thusu from
the University of Westminster in London told IPS. "It is likely to challenge
the dominance of the Anglo-American news networks."
Given that the Arabic world that al-Jazeera covers closely is among the most
newsy areas in the world, and is likely to remain so for a long time, this new
development is a critical one, Thusu said.
"An Arabic perspective on what is happening in a geopolitically and economically
important part of the world becomes very important for our understanding of
international issues," he said following a seminar held at the University
of Westminster last week on internationalizing the media.
"The United States has now labeled the 'war on terrorism' as 'a long war,'
which may also be reflected in the war on the airwaves," Thusu said. "This
may not be a bad thing after all."
The conference, which brought together media experts and academics from almost
50 countries, addressed many of the political issues arising from the internationalization
of the media. It sought to address issues faced both by those in the media and
those studying media.
"The idea of organizing an international conference on how we study the
media emerged from a general sense of dissatisfaction about the dominance of
Anglo-American models of studying the media at a time when media themselves
have become global," Thusu said. "The conference succeeded in creating
a much greater awareness about the need to be more cosmopolitan when thinking
about the media."
The internationalizing of media is intensely political, and consequently unavoidably
controversial. And al-Jazeera remains among the most controversial news providers.
But it is not the first challenger to established media. "Historically
alternative media has been around, and it has always challenged traditional
media," Robin Mansell, president of the International Association for Media
and Communication Research based in the United States told IPS. "What has
changed is the global dimension of the new media."
But simply a creation of new media is not challenge enough, Mansell said. "How
far that new challenge works in parallel with existing media, and how far it
presents an alternative viewpoint that is valued all over the world is a difficult
But was it a question of credibility? "I think credibility has always
been an issue for media," Mansell said. "With new media, there is
a similar problem of questioning the origin of stories."
And would the diverging political backgrounds of the news providers imply different
news values? "I think there are arguments in every culture about what is
news," Mansell said, "although it is something of a chimera. Values
have changed with time."
The change is not coming by way of al-Jazeera alone. Other news providers from
other countries are gaining ground and air. News channels such as the
Chinese CCTV9 and NDTV from India have been gaining audiences, Thusu said.
"Add to this the growing contra-flow of media products from the global
South to the North and within the South; examples include Bollywood, Korean
cinema, Japanese animation, Arabic news," Thusu told delegates earlier.
But such a shift to the south in media dominance is not new, he said.
"It is important to remind ourselves that an international approach to
studying and researching media would acknowledge that it has a global history,
that printing was invented in China, not in Frankfurt, that the first printing
press in the Ottoman Empire was established in 1511, and the first printing
press in the Americas was not in the USA but in Mexico, in 1535," Thusu
"India had a daily newspaper in 1780, while by 1870s more than 140 newspapers
in Indian languages were circulating there. The first Arabic newspaper was launched
in 1789, while the first overseas Chinese newspaper was founded in San Francisco
in 1854. There is a long history of media outside the standard Anglo-American
or European version of it."
India and China will have increasing impact on media and media studies, he
"The economic growth of India and the 'peaceful rising' of China the
two ancient civilizations with huge potential to influence the emerging global
'knowledge society' are likely to affect the way media studies is theorized,"
"The Chinese version of media marketization where the state has played
a central role in globalization offers interesting sites for future media
and communication research."
Thusu added: "If the cultural cracks that have emerged in the 'global
village' in the wake of 9/11 and its aftermath are not to become chasms, inter-cultural
communication will have to be deployed effectively. This would mean moving toward
an innovative, more inclusive, and cosmopolitan research agenda, one that cuts
across disciplinary, ethnic, national, and religious boundaries to encompass
the multi-vocal, multi-directional, and multimedia flows that make up the landscape
of global communication."