The News From Home

In the early part of the 20th Century, T.E. Lawrence got the news from his native Britain only when he happened across a newspaper that had found its way to the Middle East – probably only when he found his way back to a British military stronghold, such as Cairo in Egypt…maybe a letter that had found its way from home to him after 3-4 months. By the mid-20th Century, when Wilfred Thesiger explored the Empty Quarter in Saudi Arabia, choices for news had expanded to include the broadcasts from the BBC World Service – the key news service for Europeans and Americans in much of the non-Western world. Today, not only is there a wide selection of news channels available to anyone with a satellite dish (and even the Bedouin deep in the desert have satellite dishes), but the Internet provides immediate news feeds from just about any country, in just about any language.

The BBC World Service still exists, both on shortwave radio and the Internet. This legendary news service provides a decidedly British perspective on events around the world, and it can be counted on to be up-to-date and expansive in its coverage. The same can be said of the BBC News website. I check this site daily, not only for news I might not get on American sites, but also for English Premiership news – of which I have become a serious fan. Additionally, BBC News boasts a very professional television news channel via satellite, providing general daily news, as well as in-depth news articles and celebrity profiles.

The two main standbys for news from an American-centric perspective are pretty much what one would expect: CNN and Fox News. I check CNN daily and Fox News 2-3 times per week. Both sites disappoint me. They focus so much on the United States (particularly Fox News) that important international stories, excluding major events such as the bombings that welcomed Benazir Bhutto back to Pakistan today, are seldom highlighted if reported at all. I certainly want to know what is going on in the United States, but there is a world outside of North America, and much of what occurs in other parts of the world has a direct affect on the daily lives of Americans. We’re just so well insulated from these events by the major news organs that we rarely are aware of what is going on elsewhere – unless it serves the purposes of the U.S. Government or American business interests to bring such events to the forefront of news coverage.

CNN International, headquartered in Hong Kong, is available as a satellite channel and offers similar fare to the BBC News channel. I check the channel about 3 or 4 times a month. I’ve seen no such satellite presence by Fox News.

For me, the most surprising find in quality journalism is Al-Jazeera English. This independent news service out of Qatar, unfairly derided by the American and British governments as a mouthpiece of Al-Qaeda, is the most even handed news service available in the Middle East. Yes, it retains a decidedly Arab perspective; but how is that different from the British perspective of the BBC or the American perspective of CNN and Fox News? The government in Qatar allows Al-Jazeera free rein in how it handles news, and it jabs sticks at the Islamists as much as it pokes at some of the more unsavory aspects of Western foreign policy. Some of the most critical news coverage of Palestinian activities has come from Al-Jazeera. Their coverage of the current crackdown in Myanmar is worthy of note, and their level of coverage of Africa is not found in most Western news services. One of the things I like best about their television coverage, which is available in both English and Arabic via satellite, is its raw nature. They don’t spend a lot of time editing their news feeds, and they quite often provide satellite feeds as the events are unfolding. This was true of the recent conflicts between Hezbollah and the Lebanese Army, as well as in the “civil war” between Hamas and Fattah in the Occupied Territories. I watched live feeds of shelling in the case of the former, while I watched a tense 2-hour feed involving 20-30 Arab journalists penned down in a Gaza apartment. In neither case did the news coverage break for an Ensure commercial. I normally check the web site 4-5 times a week, the television service at least once a week.

If you’re in the Middle East, it is impossible not to see news related to Israel. While not all of the news is as negative toward Israel as one might expect, there is a lot that is terribly negative – usually of the Zionist This and Zionist That variety. For me, the best place to get the Israeli perspective is from Haaretz. I started reading Haaretz a few years ago, when it was recommended by a Jewish friend who diligently keeps up on news from Israel. Haaretz offers a balanced view of internal Israeli events, including some of the more radically liberal voices in the country. I generally check this site 3-4 times per month. Probably the most surprising thing for me is that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia does NOT block Haaretz, and it is available to the population at large.

Often I just want a news feed without all the banners and popups found on many of the primary news sites. Google News is one source, but my preferred site is Yahoo! News. The layout is simpler and more straight forward, at least to me. Your mileage may vary. I check Yahoo! News daily. Another pretty good source for straight news in is Reuters. Though the web site slants more toward business news, there is good coverage of general news, and the Odd News section provides some of the more entertaining news items available on the Internet. For straight business news, albeit from a very conservative slant, it’s hard to beat Business Week. This free site provides in-depth coverage of subjects affecting both businesses and consumers. While decidedly pro-business, on the whole, the journalism is solid and fact based.

The French have jumped into the fray with a 24-hour news channel, available via satellite, in both French and English. I have not viewed this site a lot, but it has the same look and feel as CNN and BBC News.

I have to mention The Drudge Report, a pseudo news site run by yellow journalist Matt Drudge – often serving as a mouthpiece for the Republican Party. I don’t have much use for Drudge’s muckraking style (he never met a scandal he didn’t want to create), but his site is an excellent portal to scores of news sites around the world, as well as an outstanding selection of columnists representing both conservative and liberal points of view.

Probably the most important source of news, though, is email. While email may not usually provide in-depth coverage of global warming or Gore gouging, it lets us know the little things that are going on with our friends and family. Let’s face it – most of us are pretty self-involved most of the time, and the news that really matters to us is about our kids, our grandchildren, our siblings and parents, boyfriends or girlfriends, or our wives or husbands. The immediacy of email can’t be beat, and the ability to get pictures of a newborn grandchild, nephew, or niece is an anchor for which I, and many other expatriates, are thankful. The technical, insular world of computers and the Internet isn’t all bad.

Copyright, Greg Hubbard, 2007.

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