When my partner George checked out Aljazeera International last night, he was greeted by an exceptionally wide-shouldered Riz Khan. “He looked like Grendizer on the screen, man,” George told me today as we were discussing the long-awaited launch of Aljazeera’s English language channel..
Something similar happened to me when I first switched on the channel this morning. Everyone on Aljazeera was wide-shouldered. What do they feed people at the channel’s cafeteria, I thought, although my imagination didn’t veer towards wild-shouldered robots..
So here’s my explanation of this phenomena and a tip on how to de-Grendizerize Riz.
It’s the 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio of Aljazeera’s HDTV broadcast, which not only makes people look wide, but also, reportedly contributed to the long delay of the channel’s launch. HDTV was apparently causing a lot of technical problems for the channel.
And now the tip: on your satellite receiver remote control, there probably is a button labeled ‘size’. I kept pressing it to go through the different aspect ratios until I found one that A. Doesn’t make Riz Khan look like Grendizer and B. Doesn’t cut off the sides of the picture.
Not such a great start on the visual level, ha?
Actually I managed to watch a good hour of varied programming on the channel. I hardly watch any TV, so that’s a lot of TV for me.
Here are some of my visual/content impressions.
The overall presentation was more European/BBC like than American. Aljazeera’s Arabic channel is quite American in its visual presentation, with all the ugly colors, animated backgrounds, gold, red, 3D, shadow blleeuurrrgh.. In contrast, the English channel looks more reserved and clean.
But it also looks dated/tired for a channel that is supposed to be bursting onto the scene as the first new global news player of the 21st century. The on-screen presentation is simply not up to the challenge. And it’s not helped by the fact that some of the “separators” or “bumpers” really look like a rushed job (which is strange, given how much preparation time they had).
The orange news ticker at the bottom is problematic as I kept confusing it with the on-screen captions of currently running segments.
Al Jazeera International also doesn’t seem to have decided on a final tagline. I mean is it “Setting the News Agenda” or “Every Angle, Every Side” or both?
Content wise, and despite the rather un-slick production look, I can say that I found it somewhat interesting. It is obvious that they want to differentiate themselves journalistically, as a global channel coming from the ‘global South’. It comes across as more humble than its Arabic counterpart which is full of an (often annoying) self assured and ‘defiant’ attitude.
The sports program actually opened with a lengthy segment of an Israel-Croatia football match. An assertion of editorial independence?
A report on Zimbabwe’s black farmers seemed more sympathetic to the land reforms carried out there in recent years than what one would find in western media.
Rageh Omaar’s program ‘Witness’ focused on the debate around the veil that is raging in Britain, and attempted to dig deeper into the problems facing muslim communities, beyond the ‘emotive symbolism’ of the niqab.
Yet again, in contrast to the Arabic Aljazeera, it is unlikely that we’ll see and hear the rambling populist speeches by Arab politicians/activists/viewers on the English service.
The more I was watching Aljazeera International and switching back and forth between the Arabic and English channels, the more I felt the difference. Aljazeera International is, in this initial assessment, much more ‘Western’ that the Arabic mother channel.
It’s too early to judge. But I will keep watching for a while.
On a final note, I don’t know how I feel about this format of TV in general. When in 1990, as a twenty year old student, I saw CNN, probably for the first time, at a Jordanian hotel lobby (surrounded by beer-drinking, peanut-munching middle aged Ammanis) watching “Peter Arnett and Gulf War”, that was novel. When Aljazeera launched in 1996, that was novel too.
But for a net addict like me, TV is tired (if not expired). Although the power of TV is immense, I feel we already entered the post-TV era.