Leading Soviet Russian newspaper Pravda and America’s own Voice of America were top propaganda apparatuses of the Cold War era. Pravda literally meant the truth, although much of what the official Soviet daily put out was taken only as propaganda even when some parts of it were true. Ironically, Voice of America, despite its admittedly pro-American make-up and raison d’etr, used to be considered as a source of news in many parts of the world.

In an era where the sway over hearts and minds was so important for the promotion of their respective ideologies, both performed vital roles. But with television channels like CNN coming to their own, and the Cold War era itself being dumped into the dustbins of history, these traditional news sources lost much of their relevance.

Also, in the international politics of today, perceptions matter the least as the players do what they think is right; little does it count whether the rest of the world supports their action. Hardly anything is heard about Pravda or the Voice of America these days, although both still seem to be carrying on with their tasks, truthfully that is.

Influencing hearts and minds has been a major consideration behind the launch of Qatar’s Al Jazeera as the Arab world’s alternative to CNN, but its success so far remains a debatable issue. Last month the channel made a daring move to launch Al Jazeera America, seeking to end the monopoly of western news channels that air what the Arabs and the rest of the world consider as one-sided and politically motivated versions of their own story.

Fairly impressive

Al Jazeera has had fairly impressive success with its Arabic and English channels aired from various centres in the Arab region, by introducing a new class of live news coverage and benchmarking itself against the best in the business. And in this process, the channel has managed to access resources that would generally be considered beyond its reach and appeal.

But its American dream seems to have started on a sour note, although it may be too early to write off its prospects, given that there is a clear space available within the western audiences that desire a different perspective. US critics have been very quick to pick holes, including some technical glitches, in the fare presented so far.

In typical American style, suspicions have also been raised about the channel’s ownership. Al Jazeera America suffered a big setback when, according to reports, AT&T U-verse dropped the channel from its network on the launch day itself citing certain contractual disputes. Resistance would also have built around the channel’s declared objective of exposing the wrongs in American policies and approaches.

Biased coverage

The American launch unfortunately timed with some clumsy developments at home over its own biased editorial policies in reporting developments in Egypt and Syria. Key editorial personnel have announced their resignation to protest alleged doctoring of the coverage to suit the political viewpoints of the channel owners, which according to them are in conflict with the actual happenings on the ground.

In July this year, 22 staff members of Al Jazeera Egypt quit the channel alleging biased coverage of events in Egypt. The mass resignations were followed by a similar decision by four Egyptian members of the editorial team at the headquarters in Doha, citing the same reason.

Al Jazeera’s idea of taking on the detractors on their home turf was daring by all means, but the merit of the move will begin to shine, and find acceptance, only when it reaches its logical conclusion. Dubai’s Emirates, for instance, has shown how it could so successfully take on the world and change the rules of the game, despite its Arab origin.

The Emirates, in fact, is the showpiece of Arab corporate achievement and a benchmark for success in the aviation industry while many of its one-time greats stay grounded by the emerging harsh realities of the business.

Al Jazeera has still a long way to go to be admitted to the Emirates club of super-achievers.

— The writer is a journalist based in Dubai