Thursday, December 15, 2005

Quick Guide to the News Production Process

When I heard about the Daily Mirror report about the Bush-Blair memo, it made me question what we, in the Aljazeera news room, were doing that made the U.S. Administration want to bomb us.

I knew that they were not happy about our reporting on events in Iraq, but I always felt it was a professional disagreement in the way they saw the war from the way we saw the war. These different perspectives were part of an important debate, and our right to voice our perspective was as important as their right to state theirs'. Even though we may have disagreed, I still thought this was part of the media's job, our job, and if we were doing our job professionally, then maybe the U.S. could be upset with our stories, but they would understand our duty to our audience.

I have read a lot of comments on this blog in which people mistakenly believe we are part of some sinister anti-West conspiracy. Nothing could be further from the truth. I agree that we may have a different editorial angle on a story, - and it seems only natural that an Arab viewpoint might be different than the U.S. viewpoint - but our reporting is at least as objective, impartial and professional as any other international new organization including BBC, CNN and Sky.

So in order to dispel some of the misguided notions about Aljazeera, I wanted to let people in the West know our news production process - the way we receive, edit, and broadcast the news.*

Aljazeera abides by a Code of Ethics written by Aljazeera staff in 2004. Everyone in the Channel took a part in drafting it, especially the journalists. The Code of Ethics emerged from the Channel's motto "The opinion and the other opinion" which emphasizes neutrality and objectivity when dealing with the news.

Under the Code of Ethics the news is produced according to the following procedures:

  • The news team, in general, consists of a senior producer or producer, an assistant producer, the journalists and script editor, along with: (1) the assignment desk which receive the news and reports from our correspondent, and (2) the interview section which arranges with guests to comment on an event.
  • Before going into work, a meeting is held between the news team, chief editor and the program editor to discuss both the recent news and the expected upcoming events to decide on the priorities and the way the news should be covered.
  • Like any other news network, we receive the news basically from our reporters in the fields, agencies like AFP, APTN, Reuters and from official and unofficial statements from organizations. Some of the news comes with video footage and some without.
  • We don't deal with any news before confirming its accuracy by checking two sources (double source). Also we have to make sure that it adheres to the Code of Ethics and our Code of Conduct. As an example, contrary to what many people have said, we will have never nor will ever show beheadings.
  • In situations where we receive something important from a single agency and we can't confirm through our correspondent or other news agency we study the news before putting it on air, and make sure we refer it to its source (like Reuters for example).
  • Sometimes we have to depend on one source, our correspondent, so we make sure that they are well-trained, trusted and aware of the Code of Ethics.
  • In dealing with any issue we work on showing different point of views, by giving the all sides equal coverage. For example when we broadcasted story about the Italian documentary "Alfallujah Massacre" where the U.S. were accused of using prohibited weapons (White Phosphorous), we hosted an American officer to comment.
  • If we make a mistake regarding the accuracy of information, we apologize in the bulletin and correct it in order to reserve our image and credibility.
  • There is always more than one person involved in the news production process including the Chief Editor, Program Editor and Senior Producer.

Hope I made things clear.

Montaser Marai, Producer

(1) There are some unique considerations which may impact our coverage, such as our facilities and position in the coverage field (our offices are closed in some countries like Iraq and Saudi Arabia).
(2) Although we have a framework and a Code, working in the media depends sometimes on the way the news team interpret and analyze the events. Mistakes can happen. We accept we can make mistakes, but we correct them as quickly as possible, and we don't insist on them.
(3) Finally, I mentioned all I know about the production process but those things that are considered confidential are kept confidential, but do not impact our overall approach to news production.

* This is my understanding and is not an official statement!

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