SENIOR ANCHOR for Al Jazeera English, Stephen Cole spoke critically of the 24 hour news format and attempted to challenge any preconceived notions about Al Jazeera English at a Coventry Conversation entitled “A different view of news” on Thursday.
Stephen Cole fronted Sky News, BBC World and CNN International before leaving to join Al Jazeera English in 2006. Stephen spoke about the history of the network and his own experience as a journalist, challenging any assumptions about Al Jazeera’s content or agenda:
“I think the reason people didn’t like Al Qaeda/Al Jazeera television was because the allegation was that we’d shown beheadings which we have never done”
He added: “But nobody knew the channel anyway none of you had watched it, you’d only seen a headline saying Al Jazeera Arabic or Al Jazeera, so nobody had seen it but everybody had a view, which is the worst kind of ignorance.”
Stephen highlighted how before the attack on the twin towers on 9/11 Al Jazeera had been praised by the US government as “a democratic force in a neighborhood crowded with dictators.” However Cole suggested that after showing images of the devastation caused by US military action to Iraqi civilians in 2002 the network became “public enemy number one” and was “guilty of anti-american propaganda” according to the US government. Cole said:
“Donald Rumsfeld, who remember this was the guy who had his finger on the button, and was able to start wars anywhere in the world, publicly vilified us during the US invasions of both Afghanistan and Iraq Al Jazeera offices in Kabul and Bagdad were destroyed by American bombs. They’ve admitted the administration deliberately targeted a journalistic organization and they’ve admitted that.”
The majority of audience questions wanted to know exactly how Al Jazeera represents a different perspective from the mainstream networks like CNN International and BBC World. Throughout the talk he defined the channel in various ways: “The first television news operation based outside the United States or Britain and thats why I joined.” Going on to describe it by saying:
“Basically I think now we’re the dominant channel covering the developing world. In other words being based in the global south we’re trying to reverse the information flow that has traditionally moved from the wealthy north to the poorer countries south of the equator and it sounds a bit pompous but we’re trying to be the voice of the voiceless delivering in depth journalism from these very under reported regions of the world.”
As an experienced 24 hour news anchor, Stephen spoke critically of the format saying: “The sad thing about 24 hour news is that it fills a hole, there’s very little sitting back in 24 hour news.” Going on to identify the lack of well thought out considered journalism because of the pressures of rolling news.