The announcement that Al Jazeera would be creating a US branch is a hopeful departure from the rest of mainstream coverage of the Middle East. While some initial reports implied Al Jazeera America would rely on its Doha headquarters for 40 percent of its programming, it now seems they will be operating rather independently- hiring their own White House correspondent etc. Strategically, they have already hired a number of recognizable figures from US cable media (ABC News’s Lisa Fletcher and Kate O’Brian as well as CNN’s Soledad O’Brien and Joie Chen) to bring familiarity to US audiences.
But already, that familiarity is extending beyond the names of those delivering the news into the content.
Both Al Jazeera English and Al Jazeera America published articles online on August 13 regarding Israel’s announcement of 942 new settlements in Gilo in the midst of yet another round of US mediated peace talks.
The first lines of the articles set different tones —
Al Jazeera America: “Israel has approved 942 new settlement housing units in East Jerusalem, according to a local official”
Al Jazeera English: “Israel’s latest announcement of more than 900 new illegal settlement units in occupied East Jerusalem ‘threatens’ talks with the Palestinians, a senior Palestinian official has said”.
While discussing the legitimacy of such settlements, Al Jazeera America writes “Gilo is an existing Israeli settlement in east Jerusalem, which Palestinians see as part of their future state. The U.N. deems illegal all Israeli settlement on land conquered in the war of June 1967, which includes East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza”
Al Jazeera English explains, “The last talks in 2010 broke down on the issue of settlements, which are illegal under international law.”
While Al Jazeera America seems to be concerned with treading lightly, Al Jazeera English does what it is admired for- delivering facts and connecting the dots between actions and their potential ramifications for future peace negotiations. Why wouldn’t Al Jazeera America call the settlements “illegal settlements”? Why include that Israel “conquered” the land in the war of 1967? Why not mention that the continuation of settlement building in the midst of talks where “all options are on the table” exposes Israel as a partner that is not interested in peace but in PR?
While I have high hopes the Al Jazeera America will introduce a certain degree of integrity into the US media landscape, I am fearful that a familiar US-centered policy towards Palestine and Israel will remain.