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Al Jazeera English: margins of difference in international English-language news broadcasting

Bigalke, Nina (2013) Al Jazeera English: margins of difference in international English-language news broadcasting. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Launching in 2006, Al Jazeera English (AJE) set out to challenge the dominance of Western-based organisations in the field of international English-language news broadcasting. Ambitions of ‘balancing the current typical information flow by reporting from the developing world back to the West’ directly link the organisation to longstanding debates on asymmetric global news flows (AJE Website, Corporate Profile, 04/09/2008). In this context, the aim of my thesis is to develop a theoretical framework that allows to conceptualise two related aspects: 1) assessing degrees of both similarities and differences between AJE and established Western-based news broadcasters and 2) addressing underlying mechanisms that begin to explain degrees of difference that AJE has managed to carve out in the field of international television news. On the basis of a critical realist ontology, I combine Bourdieu’s concepts of field, habitus and capital with an understanding of agency as advanced by Archer. While the first allows me to conceptualise the relational nature of questions of news flows on the level of journalistic practices (which in the past have primarily been the domain of macro-theory), the latter serves to acknowledge the role of the reflexive powers of the individual when it comes to professional trajectories and editorial decision making. Combined, these approaches are uniquely positioned to explore the complexities of a news organisation aiming to be simultaneously similar enough to be on a par with established networks and different enough to live up to aims of ‘reporting back’. My findings suggest that overall, in accordance with its remit, AJE focussed on the global South and on people outside the realms of power to a greater extent than BBC World News, while in other areas asymmetries at odds with AJE’s remit (such as gender imbalances or an association of the South with conflict) were found to be reproduced. This dialectic was reflected in the channel’s organisational environment, where a relatively autonomous position, characterised by a largely non-commercial outlook, provided actors with a rare degree of autonomy, the utilisation of which, however, continues to be contingent on an ongoing negotiation between AJE’s twin aims of (professional) similarity and (editorial) difference.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2013 Nina Bigalke
Library of Congress subject classification: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN1990 Broadcasting
Sets: Departments > Media and Communications
Supervisor: Chouliaraki, Lilie

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