African 'al-Jazeera' aims to give a fairer view of the continent

Click to follow
The Independent Online

More than 20 years ago, Mohammed Amin set up his camera in the dustbowls of Korem in northern Ethiopia and filmed people starving to death. His footage, accompanied by a report from the BBC's Michael Buerk, left an indelible impression of Africa on the minds of British television viewers.

Now his son Salim wants to give African journalists a bigger voice in how the continent is presented to the world by setting up the Africa's first news channel.

"We want to show the success stories as well as the failures, and show there is more to us than famines and wars," he said. "We need to remind ourselves, as well as others, that there are people here who are contented with their lives.

"My father always talked about how important it was for Africans to receive news from other Africans."

Mohammed Amin was killed in 1996 after a plane he was travelling on was hijacked and crashed into the sea. His son is now determined take up the task of covering African news from the inside. Already the chief executive of Camerapix, a production company based in Nairobi, he believes his true mission is to set up an African version of the Arabic TV news channel al-Jazeera, broadcasting in English and French to African and international audiences. Mr Amin said: "The idea is to get Africans talking to each other instead of getting their information on what is happening in each other's countries from outsiders."

Many existing African news programmes lack credibility as they are aired on state-controlled television stations or produced by untrained staff. Local viewers often prefer to tune into the BBC World Service on the radio for accurate information.

Mr Amin said the new station's first priority would be to train local journalists to international standards. "We will not have big, costly bureaus with high overheads," he said. "But we do need to invest in training to produce a professional, high quality station that can compete globally.

"We need the station to be commercially viable, and to do this, standards have to stay high."

Broadcasters around the world are beginning to understand the value of owning a global, English language news channel. A Kremlin-funded English language news channel has just gone on air and the Qatar-based al-Jazeera plans to launch an English language service this spring. The Times of India has teamed up with Reuters to launch an all-English channel to compete in a rapidly growing arena. CNN has already entered the Indian market, by launching a channel with the local broadcaster IBN.

"All these new news channels have given people access to points of view that are very different to those aired on CNN or the BBC," said Mr Amin. "On al- Jazeera the talk shows have gone a long way to give people different perspectives on what is happening on the region. We want to do the same for Africa."

The new African channel, which is intended to combine the reach of CNN with the agility of al-Jazeera, will have small bureaus in 50 countries across the continent staffed by well trained local journalists.

The channel would begin by airing around six hours of news a day, and eventually turn into a 24-hour news channel. With the cost of broadcast technology falling rapidly, it is also easier to start up a news channel on a lower budget.

Mr Amin estimates he needs $20m (£11m) to get the channel up and running by March 2007. Several African broadcasters have already pledged their support for the venture, and Mr Amin now hopes to raise more funds from the African Union and other international agencies. Meanwhile, Al-Jazeera has hired a British law firm to press Tony Blair to release a partial transcript of a conversation between him and George Bush in which the American President allegedly said that the broadcaster's headquarters should be bombed.

Yosri Fouda, an investigative reporter and acting al-Jazeera bureau chief in London, said the network had hired Finers Stephens Innocent LLP in an "attempt to put pressure on the British Government" to hand over part of the record of the conversation.

"We would like to know the truth," Mr Fouda said.

Comments