Al Jazeera focused on providing context to western audiences

April 5, 2010

Richard Parker and Ayman Mohyeldin.

Richard Parker and Ayman Mohyeldin.

April 5, 2010 — With notes prepared on his new iPad, Ayman Mohyeldin, Gaza correspondent for Al Jazeera English, spoke at a Shorenstein Center Speaker Series event about “Covering Gaza under Siege and War.”

Using examples from his experience covering cross-cultural misunderstandings, Mohyeldin emphasized what he sees as the most important thing about journalism today: context. There is an “emphasis on information” in news coverage, he said, but “context is nearly as important as the information itself.” New technology has spurred on a “race to get information” among journalists, but that information is often misrepresented to western audiences, Mohyeldin said.

What makes Al Jazeera English unique, Mohyeldin argued, is that its news coverage is “no longer exclusively subject to interpretation of western media organizations.” It has “challenged the western media notion of context” by providing on-the-ground stories about circumstances surrounding events. Al Jazeera English has “projected an image of the Arab world in a different context” and has exposed to western audiences “a part of the world that is strategically important yet so complex.”

Mohyeldin described the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a coin with two sides, and western media’s attempts to see both sides is “at best, skewed.” Al Jazeera English has attempted to break the “exclusivity and monopoly of context” by providing western audiences with not just information about the Arab world but with the proper contextual setting. The Gaza conflict was unique, Mohyeldin said, because it was “the first time a war was not broadcast around the world exclusively by western media.”

While Al Jazeera English is growing rapidly in global markets, in the U.S. it has only made its way to online news sources. Mohyeldin sees this as a “disservice” to the American audiences who have plenty of access to information, but are missing the context that provides a critical framework in which to understand it.

This article was written by Janell Sims and the photos taken by Heather McKinnon, both of the Shorenstein Center.