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Al Jazeera English and the cultural internationalization of a trade

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In this highly mediated world of ours, themes of difference and sameness are rehearsed by the media dayby- day, hour-by-hour and – with new technologies transforming both old and new media – increasingly minute-by-minute. Since November 2006 Al Jazeera English (AJE) adds a new voice to 24/7 news broadcasting and with few channels questions of sameness and difference has been pushed as far. Distinctiveness is the aim of any entrant in a saturated media market, but this time, being sufficiently different to satisfy those disillusioned by Western 24/7 news channels, while being sufficiently similar to constitute a serious challenge to those same channels, became a delicate balancing act and the benchmark against which success or failure was going to be measured. Without any language barrier for journalists from the majority of Western news channels, AJE employs a hybrid composition of journalists, vocational backgrounds covering the whole range of international news broadcasters. Being hired for what they bring to the channel, those who deliver difference – or sameness – play an active role in shaping the mediation of difference. On the one hand the channel’s profile is characterised by the aim to deliver a distinctively Southern agenda, with a distinct regional emphasis in story selection, angle and choice of sources being perceived by its editorial staff to be a crucial mark of difference. On the other hand, to the extent to which the employment of common international journalistic practices likens the channel’s ensuing editorial structures and practices to that of other channels, it can be seen as ‘more of the same.’ Taking these divergent trends into consideration, the channel contributes to a culturally sensitive version of an increasingly internationalised media practice, both prone to ‚de-westernise’ English-language media content and ‚westernise’ non-western media practice. Drawing on interviews with Al Jazeera English journalists, this paper will investigate the dynamics at play at a channel positioning itself at the heart of debates about the relation between media and culture. Paper prepared for the Fifth Anniversary Conference of the Department of Media and Communications, ‘Media, Communication & Humanity’, London School of Economics and Political Science, London, 21-23 September 2008.

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