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On the second day of the Highway Africa conference they did a short "Hot Seat" exercise, they picked 4 journalists from different parts of the continent (no one from the north though) and asked them a bunch of questions about the state of African media.
Now this was a surprising question but in my opinion it was a very smart one, first it was a good test of how connected African media practitioners are with other places in the world. It seems that many didn't even know what Al Jazeera was.
But what interested me was to find out whether African journalists have some perception or opinion about Al Jazeera based on views expressed in western media (I think there was only one other Arabic speaker in the conference so I just assumed no one actually watched Al Jazeera).
To my surprise (and delight) no seemed to hold an opinion based on a second hand opinion by some clueless American hack.
But what was more surprising was the positive praise Al Jazeera got, praise is an understatement. Someone from SABC (the south african public tv network) talked about how they are getting to rely on Al Jazeera to provide them with footage and information about what goes on in the rest of the world more than networks like CNN or BBC. He specifically mentioned their coverage of the Iraq and Lebanon war and how much more balanced it was, he bashed embedded journalists.
But it was Bheki Khumalo (an ex politician who now works for Siemens) who made my day. He had prepared a presentation entitled "Visioning Africa" and opened the presentation by talking about Al Jazeera, comparing them to the "Bang Bang Club" (a group of South African journalists who gave their lives covering news from the front line). He mentioned various examples of US army attacks against Al Jazeera journalists and buildings and he praised Al Jazeera reporters' courage and determination.
So it seems that it isn't just us who consider Al Jazeera such an important and positive development.
I do hope Al Jazeera knows how well it is received in different places in Africa and that their upcoming English channel would put some focus on the continent. They did great work covering stuff like Ugandan elections but I'd love to see more.