The Nashville correspondent for Al Jazeera America says he’s ready to confront negative perceptions, when the channel launches next Tuesday. Its Arabic sister station faced criticism for airing messages from Osama Bin Laden and other Al Qaeda leaders.
“You’re going to hear some people who say, “What is that? Isn’t this something to do with Muslims or terrorists?”, says bureau chief Jonathan Martin. He’s a familiar face to Middle Tennessee television viewers, having worked at WSMV as an anchor and reporter for six years.
One of the first programs viewers will see on Al Jazeera America is a documentary, which Martin says confronts those perceptions head-on. He and a New York-based film crew travelled all over Middle Tennessee to ask people’s perceptions of the new channel.
“We were very upfront,” he said. “We’re Al Jazeera America. This is what we’re doing and we just want to talk to you about news. People were friendly, surprisingly friendly I think.”
Martin says he and the team in Al Jazeera’s Nashville bureau will cover a wide swath of the South, including Kentucky, Georgia, and the Carolinas. The city is home to one of 12 bureaus for the channel, many of which are located in mid-size cities that don’t have a cable network news presence.
Al Jazeera journalists have ventured into Tennessee before. New York-based Cath Turner reported on the 2010 Tea Party Convention in Nashville for sister network Al Jazeera English. At the time, she wrote Al Jazeera was not “warmly welcomed” at the convention:
I walked up and introduced myself to the organizer, Judson Phillips. He enthusiastically shook my hand, right up until I said I worked for Al Jazeera English. His face instantly froze, he quickly dropped my hand and simply said, “Oh”.
I asked him if he had an issue with our network and he said, “Yes, I do.” When I asked him what it was, he replied, “I’m an American.” I said, “I don’t understand, sir. We are not anti-American and I’m offering you the chance to have your voice heard on our news channel. We want to hear your views.”
As Judson’s eyes darted around the room he said, “Uh, I’ll need some time to think about who I want to talk to. But, uh, I appreciate you coming.” And he walked off.
He headed straight to his media manager to complain about our presence. But thankfully, Mark Skoda is supportive of Al Jazeera English, told us he watches us when he travels, appreciates our coverage and has no problem with us being at the convention.
Jonathan Martin isn’t the only Tennessee connection to the new channel. Former Vice President Al Gore sold his Current TV channel to Al Jazeera earlier this year, for $500 million. One of the major public faces of Al Jazeera America will be John Siegenthaler, Jr. The former NBC newsman joined the channel from the New York office of his family’s business, Siegenthanler Public Relations.