Thursday, February 17, 2011

Brian Mackey: Al Jazeera offers on-the-ground perspective

The revolution that’s roiled Egypt and may be sweeping across the Middle East has vaulted Al Jazeera English to worldwide prominence. But in the United States, odds are you can’t see it on your TV.

To find out what we might be missing, I called Kristi Barnwell, who teaches modern Middle East history at the University of Illinois Springfield. She’s been following the events in Egypt on both American cable news channels and Al Jazeera English’s Internet stream.

“Especially in the first week and a half of the revolution, American TV was really American-focused — what is this impact going to have on the United States? — and wasn’t paying as much attention to what was going on on the ground,” Barnwell said.

“For example, American news sources were focused on the Muslim Brotherhood, and if you listened to the news (in America) for the first week, you’d think that was a serious threat,” she said. “If you were listening to Al Jazeera, it was much more de-centered and focused on what was going on in Egypt.”

Asked about Al Jazeera’s bad reputation — that it’s anti-American and not objective — Barnwell said she teaches her students there’s no such thing as objectivity.

Barnwell's comments were featured in a February 17, 2011, edition of The State Journal-Register.

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