What the Arab world watched before Al Jazeera
Remembering a time before Al Jazeera was born is some how difficult. The nation has become so accustomed to its existence that people weather they praise or criticize it find it hard to imagine how different things were. Until a very recent time the audience in the Arab world were only receivers, they didn’t have the opportunity to engage, interact, and have a two-way communication medium. With live debates, commentary, and phones-ins, Al Jazeera helped initiate a new trend in the region.
I was young when the channel first went on air, but when I asked some of the older generation what they used to watch 16 years ago; there was always a long silence. “I didn’t watch much TV back then, there was no reason for me to do so; everything was targeted towards women. “I am not a football fan, my English is not great so I wasn’t able to watch CNN or BBC ;I watched the 9pm news program on the local channel ” Sometimes you don’t realize the importance of something until it is made available. If they have asked me back then if I would have wanted a 24 hour Arabic news channel, I would have said no, I can get my share of news from newspapers in addition to CNN or BBC”.
The channel changed the mentality, and the interest of the Arab street, “we used to talk about celebrities, music, and football; I never expected that I would be talking politics with my friends when I was 17”. A housewife told me “Yes we cared about what’s happening in the Middle East but it wasn’t part of our daily routine. We felt connected with Gaza, Iraq, and Afghanistan, they were and still are part of our lives because of Al Jazeera”
Al Jazeera became a member of the family, a best friend, and an annoying intruder to others. It played a huge role in reconstructing Arab identities, influencing ideologies, directing negative and positive emotions, and pushing certain concepts during crucial political periods.
How Arabs perceived the Channel when it first came out
From the moment it was launched the network has been raising eyebrows, as it created the biggest buzz in the region. Its aggressive approach and the fact that they were freely discuss sensitive matters that are considered in a conservative region taboos shocked the Middle East.
The channel was the talk of the Arab world; no one has dared to openly criticize governments and political figures on television before. Their shows were intense, controversial, featured live uncut drama, which combined objectivity with audience appeal.
It was predicted to be either doomed, or put on a leash, but on the contrary it persisted on tackling issues that Arab government deliberately kept undercover such as: government corruptions, persecution of political dissenters, and human rights record of Arab regimes. It had an opinion about anything and everything, and was able to stir tables around.