BROOKE GLADSTONE: We're back with On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield. With its around the clock coverage of the U.S. war in Afghanistan and its airing of recorded messages from Osama bin Laden the satellite TV channel Al Jazeera became a household name throughout America, but while a satellite dish is all you need to watch the station in your very own living room, a working knowledge of Arabic is still needed to understand most of what's being said. Soon that will change. At the network's headquarters in Qatar, plans are under way to start broadcasting an all-English channel by early next year. And for non-Arabic speakers who can't wait that long, Al Jazeera will be launching an English-language web site within the next couple of months. Joanne Tucker is the managing editor of the new web site and she joins us now from her office in Doha. Miss Tucker, welcome to On the Media.
JOANNE TUCKER: Thank you very much.
BOB GARFIELD: Al Jazeera is being tuned in on many thousands of televisions in the United States, but I'm sure lots of Westerners who don't speak Arabic would just love to have translation of what is being broadcast on Al Jazeera, but that's not what you're offering, is it?
JOANNE TUCKER: No, we're not offering a direct translation. What we're going to do is offer the same information but really, you know, originally packaged and written or reported for a Western audience.
BOB GARFIELD: Is there something lacking in the coverage of the Arab and Muslim worlds that Al Jazeera recognizes that's behind this project?
JOANNE TUCKER:Yes. There's quite a lot lacking. Television news, in particular, only sees the Middle East through the prism of kind of war, suicide bombings, conflict, weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, misery. But this is where we can be fairer, I think. By being a web site, we can afford to do more news features. We can afford to give a more in-depth look. We can afford to give the news from a more human angle.
BOB GARFIELD:Al Jazeera became a phenomenon because it was a truly independent voice in an Arab and Muslim media world which has been historically dominated by state-run media.
JOANNE TUCKER: Mm-hm.
BOB GARFIELD: Now if that is its raison d'etre -- if that is the -- as they say in advertising, its unique selling proposition -- does it translate to the West where there is a tradition of open and independent media? Do we need an Al Jazeera web site in a media world that is not rigidly suppressed by Western governments?
JOANNE TUCKER: Actually there is a need. There is a very big need. Because you're absolutely right -- on the surface and in reality, you know, the Western press is free. But lately, especially after September 11th lots of in the West, you know, have been fed this daily dose of terrorism - terrorism - terrorism - and you know who is a patriot and who is not -- that in a way you don't have to be told to shut up - you just instinctively do. We think that there are very important questions not being asked or answered --things like who is a terrorist and who classifies who is a terrorist?
BOB GARFIELD:It sounds to me that in addition to providing the kind of context of life in the Arab and Muslim world, it sounds almost as if you're taking on a PR function, and - forgive me - a propaganda function to portray the Arab and Muslim worlds in a more flattering light. Is there a propaganda or PR function to what you're up to?
JOANNE TUCKER: No. No, there isn't. You know whether the West likes it or not, there are two or more sides to the war against terror, and I think as long as you very fairly represent each side in their own voice and according to their own words and their own experience of reality, then the truth comes out, the facts reveal themselves. You only are a PR and propaganda channel when you focus on one side of the story. We don't intend to do that.
BOB GARFIELD:Let, let me go to the demand side of the equation. Will it be difficult for you to earn the trust of Western readers considering the provenance of your reporting?
JOANNE TUCKER: I think that's a good question. I think it will be difficult, simply because we are so notorious now in the West -- post-September 11th, because of our exclusive coverage in Afghanistan.
BOB GARFIELD: And the airing of-- Osama bin Laden tirades and so forth.
JOANNE TUCKER:[LAUGHS] Yes, but I think anybody would have done exactly the same thing. I think we're stereotyped, and I think this is because people who do not watch us or because they don't understand Arabic think we are very, very one-sided. We hope that we will prove this stereotype wrong, because if we were going to be very one-sided or if we were going to be a pure propaganda tool, I don't think we'd last very long, and I don't think we'd be very popular.
BOB GARFIELD: Well Joanne Tucker, thank you very much. All best of luck to you.
JOANNE TUCKER: Thank you, Bob. It was a pleasure.
BOB GARFIELD:Joanne Tucker is the managing editor of Al Jazeera's new English language web site scheduled for launch in the next couple of months. [MUSIC]