Al Jazeera TV makes waves with Tunisia coverage
By Dina Zayed
CAIRO (Reuters) - When street protests ousted the Tunisian president, 26-year-old Egyptian Sabah first heard about it in a call from a friend who told her: "Switch on Al Jazeera."
The riots that overthrew Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and shocked the Arab world, were swiftly caught by the Qatar-based channel. Before many others, it flooded bulletins with footage, streamed online and updated its Twitter, Facebook and blog sites.
"I'm not usually interested in politics but it's hard not to follow events like these when they are glaring at me in my living room," said Sabah, who quickly followed her friend's advice and turned to Al Jazeera when the news broke.
Al Jazeera's correspondents are barred from several Arab states and it often draws scorn from Western governments, but since its 1996 launch it has mesmerized Arab viewers who once had little choice but state TV that spoon-fed the official line.
As events unfolded in Tunisia, a country where Al Jazeera's bureau had been closed, the channel again innovated among Arab broadcasters by using mobile phone footage and social media.
It no longer has a news monopoly in the Arabic satellite TV space. And some viewers say it treads a fine line between reporting and taking sides. But they stay glued regardless.
"Al-Jazeera is like a media brigade," said Jordanian Maisara Malass, an opposition activist. "By its coverage of events it has helped far more than any other outlet such as Facebook to spread the revolution from one city to the other."
From its very early days, Al Jazeera stunned the Arab world with heated debates and tough questioning of Arab officials, until then virtually unheard of. It won broad international attention, and U.S. grumbles, with its 2003 Iraq war coverage. Continued...