Comparing Al-Jazeera and Western Media

By Taryn Jones

The modern world is often divided in half between those who love Western media and those who don’t. The Western or European news has influenced the world since the arrival of the printing press in the 1440s. The dissemination of Western news brought new ideologies and cultural overshadowing. “Modernization” became synonymous with “Westernization” and the acceptance of the flow of information coming from the West.

But now the power of the Western media may be on the wane as a direct result of the rise of Al-Jazeera, Qatar’s international news outlet. The Arabic news outlet has become a hard-chiseling stream into the vast ocean of global media.

Founded in 1996 by the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, Al-Jazeera is the largest Arabic News Channel in the Middle East, offering news coverage 24 hours a day from around the world, according to Allied Media Corp. Emir Al Thani said he founded Al-Jazeera to provide a Middle Eastern voice for uncensored news coverage, political debates, and a focus on social, political, and cultural issues. Some media analysts believe that its mission is also to reverse the dominant flow of global information from the West.

Just how does Al-Jazeera challenge Western viewpoints? A comparison of the same story done by Al-Jazeera and The New York Times provides an excellent example.

The logo of Al-Jazeera, the Arabic News Channel

The logo of Al-Jazeera, the Arabic News Channel

Both Al-Jazeera and The New York Times produced articles Sept. 26 on North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s deteriorating health, as reported by North Korean officials. The article posted by Al-Jazeera is very short and to-the-point. Written in an inverted pyramid-style, the article acknowledged Kim’s ailment and provided very concise but specific details on his health. The Al-Jazeera story quoted Michael Madden, an expert on North Korean leadership, on how Kim “appears to have gout” and speculated that his situation is a combination of “diet and genetic predisposition.”

The article posted by The New York Times is far lengthier, 13 paragraphs, and outside of his health report, it provided a more in-depth examination of Kim’s leadership style and his notable absences from political and public meetings. The New York Times did not include any direct quotes from outside experts.

Both news media reported on Kim’s health but the articles differed in execution. Where Al-Jazeera presented the facts solely on his health, The New York Times made several references to the nation’s current state of affairs, such as how outside analysts are looking “for signs of a political purge” due to Kim’s prolonged absence. The article’s wording shifts the reader’s attention from Kim’s health to North Korea’s troubled isolationism.

Even the two headlines suggest different connotative feelings. The reader is more likely to feel apathy towards an article that references the “North Korean leader not feeling well” rather than a more personal headline that states “Kim Jong-un is suffering.”

In comparison to Western media, Al-Jazeera allows for its readers to form their own opinions on topics, sticking to its stated approach of prescriptive yet concise news reporting.

Photograph by Joi Ito through Creative Commons.


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