Raymond Snoddy on media: Has TV news lost air of authenticity?

Next week will be a remarkable one in the development of international media.

On 15 November, the long-delayed launch of the English-language version of Arabic TV channel Al Jazeera takes place, with the help of presenters Sir David Frost and Darren Jordan. The following day, France 24, news from a French perspective, broadcast in French and English, goes live.

It may appear more than a little curious that people should persist doggedly in such expensive pursuits when the days of linear TV are supposed to be numbered.

It is difficult to see France 24 having much impact in the Anglo-Saxon world, other than with language students.

However, the launch of Al Jazeera International in high definition, which coincides with the 10th anniversary of the original channel, is far more significant. It could also be a prime site for advertisers trying to reach international movers and shakers.

The channel has probably had a bum rap in its first decade by being branded as Osama bin Laden's mouthpiece. Too many otherwise sensible people fail to distinguish between coverage and support, and expect news channels to be cheerleaders for their own version of reality.

When Al Jazeera broadcast in Arabic, it was difficult to know what the channel was up to and how independent it was, other than to say that by comparison with the reigning values in the Middle East, it has been independent. Now we should be able to make up our own minds.

At last week's News Xchange event in Istanbul, which brought together 500 TV news executives from 55 countries, Al Jazeera pleaded impotence as far as al-Qaeda was concerned.

The channel no longer receives inflammatory tapes from the terrorist group because it applies normal journalistic standards, editing them and putting them into context.

Instead, Al-Qaeda now posts its videos straight on the internet, where thousands of jihad sites circulate the most gruesome material.

When it comes to the issue of user-generated content, however, how do you know that what you are seeing or reading is what it purports to be? As many TV executives argued in Istanbul, there are still questions surrounding the authenticity, trust and the power of established brands.

This is where journalism and checking comes in. The issue led to some of the sharpest exchanges of the conference when former Financial Times journalist Charlie Leadbeater questioned the authenticity of TV news journalism.

Leadbeater believes we are in only the early stages of the internet revolution and that additional structures will rise to challenge existing media corporations. He questioned what was authentic about television reporters standing outside darkened government buildings when they have no idea what is going on inside, or interviewing defence analysts thousands of miles from the action who have even less idea about events.

David Mannion, editor-in-chief of ITN, argued that this was 'absolute tosh', pointing out that more than 100 journalists had lost their lives this year in the pursuit of authentic information.

So until the world according to Leadbeater comes to pass - if, indeed, it ever does - you will be able to rely, more or less, on new authentic information from Al Jazeera International and France 24.

And if they are not enough, a 24-hour Danish news channel is also on the way, while anyone wanting to reach citizens of the world's biggest democracy, India, has no fewer than 32 round-the-clock news channels from which to choose How authentic is that?

- Al Jazeera, meaning 'The Island', was launched in 1996, with a $150m (£79m) grant from the Emir of Qatar.

- The channel attracts about 50m viewers and gained notoriety when it broadcast videos by Osama bin Laden, following the 11 September attacks.

- The station operates several specialist channels including Al Jazeera Live, Al Jazeera Sports and the Al Jazeera Children's Channel.

- Aljazeera.net was launched as the first mainstream Arabic news site in January 2001. The following year, it received 161m visits and is now one of the 50 most-visited sites on the web.

- The channel's Kabul office was hit by two US 'smart' bombs in 2001.

- Al Jazeera International will broadcast from studios in Doha, London, Kuala Lumpur and Washington DC.

- The channel is targeting 5m viewers in its first year.


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