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Al-Jazeera’s Impact to be Studied

The study is timely and necessary, said USC Annenberg doctoral candidate Shawn Powers.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation has awarded Shawn Powers, a doctoral candidate at the USC Annenberg School for Communication, and Mohammed el-Nawawy, holder of the Knight-Crane Chair of Communication at Queens University of Charlotte, a grant to research the Al-Jazeera English network.

Working in conjunction with the USC Center on Public Diplomacy at the USC Annenberg School, Powers and el-Nawawy will survey how the network’s programming impacts cross-cultural dialogue, understanding and the likelihood of conflict among its audiences.

“Both the U.S. government and cable system operators have kept Al Jazeera at arms’ length, to say the least,” said Eric Newton, vice president of the Knight Foundation. “Is that attitude backed up by the facts? That’s what we’d like to know.”

The yearlong project is funded through a $59,000 grant from the Knight Foundation. Powers and el-Nawawy will test the network’s claims to “enable a real dialogue” across cultures and continents by “speaking truth to power” and “giving a voice to the voiceless.”

The study will take Powers and el-Nawawy to Malaysia, Indonesia, Qatar, the United Kingdom and the United States to analyze the demographics, worldviews and cultural dispositions of Al-Jazeera English viewers.

Each country was chosen based upon their relative levels of viewership as well as their ability to signify existing cultural perspectives in the context of growing resentment between the “Islamic” and “Western civilizations.” Powers and el-Nawawy also will conduct interviews with Al-Jazeera English journalists, editors and bureau chiefs.

“This study is both timely and necessary given the expanding role of transnational media organizations in shaping the conduct and flow of international politics,” Powers said. “Our project is the first of its kind both in examining the fastest-expanding international media outlet, Al-Jazeera English, as well as in engaging real audiences from multiple countries with regard to a particular media outlet’s potential to create the conditions for reconciling cultural woes.”

“Our study will further the scholarship on media and conflict as well as provide policymakers the necessary information with regard to how best to interact with and utilize international media organizations, such as Al-Jazeera English,” el-Nawawy added.

Established in November 2006, Al-Jazeera English is the most recent outgrowth of the Arabic television station Al-Jazeera and can be seen in more than 100 million households worldwide via satellite and the Internet. The network is the world’s first English-language news channel headquartered in the Middle East.

The researchers bring years of international communications experience to the research project. Powers conducted similar fieldwork on the role of Western and Arab journalists in escalating tensions surrounding the Danish cartoon controversy and is a research associate at USC’s Center on Public Diplomacy. El-Nawawy, a native of Cairo, Egypt, is the author of Al-Jazeera: The Story of the Network That Is Rattling Governments and Redefining Modern Journalism, the first English-language book on Al-Jazeera.

The team will present its findings July 20-25, 2008 at the annual conference of the International Association of Media and Communication Research in Stockholm, Sweden, and publish the results of their research in a white paper in August 2008. For more information about the project, visit

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation invests in journalism excellence worldwide and in the vitality of 26 U.S. communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers. Since 1950, the foundation has granted more than $300 million to advance quality journalism and freedom of expression. It focuses on projects with the potential to create transformational change.

Al-Jazeera’s Impact to be Studied

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