Al Jazeera (TopTV 401 / DStv 406) wants to be "the voice of the voiceless" and the 24 hour English news channel originating from Qatar in the Middle East said yesterday at a presentation in Cape Town that "last year was a fantastic year for us in terms of news and news coverage with the extraordinary events unfolding in the Middle East".
"We want to be the voice of the voiceless and to give airtime to voices not heard in the mainstream," the channel said as it showed promos and sizzle reels of its excellent and growing documentaries and longform programming. Al Jazeera has made considerable strides in its news and current affairs coverage and is talking to filmmakers in South Africa who have stories that they might want to tell.
"It's important to come and talk to people," said the Al Jazeera English commissioning editor Jon Blair. "All the programmes we show on Al Jazeera are on our website and people are able to watch our huge back catalogue online," said Al Jazeera English commissioning editor Diarmuid Jeffreys in the industry presentation.
"Al Jazeera was set up just over 15 years ago to be an alternative to the then-Western world's news channels like the CNN's and Sky's," said Jon Blair. "Al Jazeera is not interested in being a mouthpiece of its owner Al Jazeera is a global broadcaster and is quite distinct. As a system it has a director of news and a director of programmes. The director of programmes covers everything which is not breaking news."
A channel in transition
Jon Blair said Al Jazeera is a news channel in transition. "There's been a huge amount of 'Sturm Und Drung' television on Al Jazeera. But we're moving to something else - less dead bodies and more informative programming as well. Earth Rise, an environmental impact show is a good example. Viewers will see more of that kind of show with that kind of perspective on Al Jazeera in the future."
"We do have smaller budgets than other major global broadcasters but working with independent small filmmakers to tell stories which the world needs to see, they are the people able to utilize those small budgets that are available," said Jon Blair.
"Sixty percent of what is on Al Jazeera is news," said Diarmuid Jeffreys. "We cover all the news and all the significant events around the world. In Syria it is difficult even for us to get journalists in but we do work with and are in contact with people who do manage to get footage and want to get that footage out to the world," he said.