In My Opinion: Atholl Duncan: An inconvenient truth – Al Gore and Al Jazeera

YOU might not have noticed, but the USA is about to be invaded.

Not by ‘green monsters from Mars’ but by something which many Americans regard with even greater suspicion – the Al Jazeera television network.

Depicted by many in the States as a ‘terror network’, the Qatar-based broadcaster has finally gained a toehold in the ‘land of the redneck’.

What’s more, it’s a former American Vice President who has made it possible.

Al Gore, once only a heartbeat away from becoming the US President, before he turned environmental campaigner, has sold his ‘Current TV’ company to the Arab broadcasters.

This gives ‘Al Jaz’ access to an estimated 40 million cable TV homes across the States. Quite a leap for the station, which currently claims to air to an audience of 220 million, worldwide.

Al Jazeera’s motto is ‘the opinion and the other opinion’. Since it started broadcasting, it has long courted controversy by being considerably more frank and balanced than was appreciated by several Arab countries more used to State-controlled news.

That resulted in its signals being blocked and its reporters being expelled and imprisoned.

However, ‘across the pond’, rather than regarding it as a bastion of brave broadcasting, many Americans associate it mainly with propaganda videos from Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban in the wake of September 11.

However, in the land of Fox, etc, you would struggle to take exception to Al Jazeera based on any principles of Reithian values of impartiality.

A great irony of the deal between the ‘Als’ is that it’s paid for by the oil wealth of his new business friend’s in Qatar.

An inconvenient truth, you might say.

However, any insight into how broadcast news is conducted in the United States, the Middle East and many other places around the world reminds us how well served we are with impartial news from the BBC, ITV and Sky, here in the UK.

In Scotland, there will be much pressure on the BBC and STV in the next two years as we run up to the independence referendum. There is no room for complacency. Good TV news people should always be questioning whether their approach continues to meet expected standards of fairness and neutrality.

Most of all, much work remains to be done to make the London-based news broadcasters sensitive and aware of what fairness feels like in the context of the Scottish referendum. With real focus and challenge in these two areas we can continue to ensure that, unlike in the USA, our news will continue to be served up without an agenda.

Atholl Duncan is a former head of news and current affairs at BBC Scotland. He is executive director of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland.