Thursday, August 11, 2011

The News we’re Given: Aljazeera vs. the BBC

Last night I made a list of the topics covered by Aljazeera, then by the BBC.  (In Philadelphia, Aljazeera can be heard at 5:30 on channel 35, before Democracy Now. The BBC is available on channel 23 at 5:30 and 6:30.)

Here is what each covered in one half hour:

1) The riots in Britain: not enough room in jails for all those arrested in Birmingham and Manchester.

2) Syria: Turkey expects reform within the next two weeks. Many Syrians have fled to Turkey, but Syrian security sneaks in to punish some.

3) Third week of Israeli protests over rising prices, tent cities springing up all over the country, organizers hope to bring people from different towns together, perhaps in centrally located Beer Sheba.

4) Vivid coverage of West Bank olive groves being torn up to make room for the partition wall.

5) Situation in Jordan: the Prime Minister is gambling that demonstrations will quiet down.

6) Will France lose its AAA rating?  The German opposition actually wants the government to pay more to bail out other countries.

7) Red Cross staff detained or killed in various Middle East/African countries.  Due to lawlessness, many Afghans fear to travel.

8) Italy:  In a formerly a quiet seaside resort near Rome, the Camorra mafia is losing out to a Nigerian mafia that brings in young women and forces them into prostitution.  Italian police shown taking into custody a young woman without papers.

9) China launches first aircraft carrier, bought from Russia, on a sea trial.

10. The Bangladeshi government has set up a war crimes tribunal forty years after the war of independence from Pakistan (1971).  Some are gratified, others note that many perpetrators are now part of opposition, and this is a way to get rid of them.

11. Finally, as the preferred place for Brazilians flush with money, Miami is experiencing a boom in apartment sales.  The prices are half what similar real estate goes for in Rio,   but things are very different in cities across the country.

Now to the BBC:

1) It led with a brief clip of Britain’s Prime Minister talking about the riots, then devoted three minutes to the status of French banks, which have lost 5% of their value, in particular the Societe Generale.  Heavy on interviews and comments, the BBC program devoted three minutes more to an interview with a Financial Times journalist as to where all this might lead.

2) A thirteen-year old British girl filmed riots, and three policemen were killed.  More had to be brought in, a constable spoke, the police were shown in action, and David Cameron called for a restoration of ‘standards and values’.  Labor agreed with the Conservatives that government is dealing with looters, not politically motivated rioters.

3) In Rome, Berlusconi continued talks with the trade unions over austerity measures.

4) China’s testing of an aircraft carrier elicited warnings of its military buildup.

5) The US imposed sanctions on Syria’s largest banks, according to the White House press officer, and Robin Wright was interviewed at length on the situation, noting that Syria borders on five countries, including Israel, which makes the situation more delicate than in the other Arab countries that have seen uprisings.

6) The US on Taliban: an Afghan widow says war is inevitable.

7) A NATO air raid  in Libya killed 85 civilians, poor families living in a rural area where there were no military targets. NATO had no evidence.

8) The Kenyan refugee camp of Dadar, in which thousands of Somalis have been living for two decades, is like a little town, with merchants, etc.

Which of these two news broadcasts would you rather have access to?  The BBC devotes so much time to talking heads that it covers fewer stories. (CNN and MSNBC have even more talking heads, and cover even fewer stories.) One can argue that these channels serve a more sophisticated audience, interested in what experts think, but this comes at a cost: Bangladeshi politics, Syrian refugees in Turkey being targeted by Syrian security, the Nigerian mafia in Italy, Red Cross employees being killed  - or Miami benefitting from the wealth of a BRIC country, paint a much more complex picture than the one presented to Americans. Seeing the world in more simplistic terms than other peoples results in an us versus them mentality, rather than a ‘we’re all in this together’ awareness.


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