Al Jazeera in Canada – “Turning the World Back On”

Al JazeeraAl Jazeera English will be on the air in Canada within six weeks, and not a moment too soon to spur a Canadian revival in international reporting, according to AJE managing director Tony Burman.

Speaking at the University of Regina School of Journalism’s 30th Annual Minifie Lecture, Burman said North America’s foreign news corps fell victim to budget cuts during a crucial period of world history, leaving citizens in the dark about a changing world.

“I suspect historians will one day judge this as a defining period of the 21st Century. The centres of global power are shifting,” said Burman. Meanwhile, international coverage is “at risk,” the victim of profit-seeking corporations and short-sighted management.

Burman noted that in the U. S., the trend of laying off journalists and closing bureaus has led to the lowest level of international news coverage in 20 years, according to a 2008 PEW study.

“The trend here in Canada is likely the same. This, sadly, comes at a time when people have never been more in need of fearless, independent, public-service journalism – particularly coverage of the world,” he said.

Meanwhile, the developing world has moved aggressively to expand, not reduce, international coverage, Burman said. This includes the rise of Al Jazeera, with 70 bureaus around the globe, and a new one slated for Canada.

When AJE arrives in May, viewers will see television that looks and feels different, with more context, more global voices, and a slower-paced, less flashy delivery, Burman said.  He added he hopes a positive audience response to indepth, diverse global news will rub off on other media outlets.

In an increasingly multicultural, interdependent world, Canadians have an appetite for international stories, Burman argued.

“As James M. Minifie would remind us, we should never forget that there is a profound and genuine interest – rarely acknowledged by our media bosses – on the part of many Canadians towards comprehensive coverage of the world,” he said.

“As a Canadian working in the Gulf, I’m humbled by how Canadians and Canadian journalism are held in such high regard. But this takes hard work and commitment, and we can take neither for granted.”

Burman closed his talk by saying now, more than ever, Canadians deserve exposure to more, not fewer, perspectives, locations and choices in news coverage. “The windows need to be blown open, not shut closed,” he said.

This year’s Minifie Lecture was marked by the U of R School of Journalism’s 30th anniversary and the launch of a book, –30-: Thirty Years of Journalism and Democracy in Canada: The Minifie Lectures 1981-2010. The 30 contributors are a stellar cast of Canadian journalists, all of whom have donated their publication fees toward a scholarship for an aspiring journalist.