After covering the Middle East for news giant CNN for ten years, Argentine broadcast journalist, Teresa Bo, explains why a move to brand new channel Al Jazeera English was too good an opportunity to turn down.
I lived in Baghdad for three years and covered the Middle East for longer. So when Al Jazeera English called me from Doha and asked if I would be interested in moving back to Buenos Aires and covering Latin America, after working for so many years abroad, I jumped at the opportunity.
You wanted to come back to Buenos Aires. Had you had enough of the Middle East?
No, eventually I’ll probably go back to Baghdad with Al Jazeera, but after three years in Baghdad, it was very intense and I was tired. Al Jazeera looked like an interesting project; something new to start with, a fresh look and the ability to cover many things that we’re not allowed to cover for other media, like social stories.
How do you personally see Al Jazeera? It is meant to be an alternative news station. No US nor British influence.
I think it’s an international network done by international journalists that attempt to cover the news that is important for the region around them – not only what’s important for the US or Britain. It’s a way of seeing things from the inside. If you tell a story well and you have action and a perspective, it’s always going to interest people.
Your colleague, Lucia Newman said that the objective of Al Jazeera English is to cover everything that happens in South America from a wide spectrum – not just in times of crisis. Are you successfully doing this in your opinion?
Yes, definitely. And not only in Buenos Aires where we have an office and from where we cover daily news. But, for instance, in Bolivia: We’re not waiting for Bolivia to blow up into a civil war just to go there. We’ve been going there all the time and covering all the challenges that the new government has and we go there monthly. We’re going to almost every country all the time. We’re always with our suitcase going from one country to the next. I’m used to it but it’s very tiring. For the last two months, I’ve been in Buenos Aires for a week!
How does it feel working for one of the three largest news channels in English globally?
For me it’s a great opportunity to broaden my perspective of work; to grow. I’m very happy with the outcome of the channel. We were all intrigued in the beginning about how it was going to be and what it was going to look like. The truth is that every time I see it on TV I am proud of it. That’s probably because there is an ideal. All of use who work there are committed to reporting stories and giving voice to many people who are often ignored in world news.
How do your competitors see you?
I think they look at us with a lot of respect. All of our staff are qualified with good backgrounds, and we have the resources to move around and cover a lot.
Al Jazeera English also broadcasts online and has its own YouTube channel. How important is the internet as a medium for news nowadays?
It’s very important. A perfect example of this is a story I did for the Argentina elections [October 2007] It was very problematic for us: We showed how people bought votes in Buenos Aires and that story had about 300,000 hits. Everybody I know told me they had received an e-mail containing that story, and it was aired on TV in Argentina. It was done in a way for international news though, not local news. Many people in Argentina said it was not true and that it was invented. But everybody in the media in Argentina knows that this happens, they just choose not to cover it. That was something that I’m proud of and where the internet played a huge role. The good thing was in that we were in Argentina and we were being serious.
How does it compare, reporting from Baghdad to reporting in South America?
It’s different. In Baghdad there is a war and you get used to seeing death almost every day. In the Middle East my editor called at least 15 times a day, requesting more stories, more coverage. In South America, we often pitch stories that are more like features, and the cool thing is that with Al Jazeera, almost the whole time they’re interested – we’re currently airing two pieces from Latin America every day. Naturally, we cover the news as well, and when there are big developments, for example, with the hostage situation in Colombia, when they just want more and more and more. We’re sending all the time.
How was it day to day in Baghdad?
You get used to living inside a lot – mainly in hotels with other journalists. You don’t have the freedom to move around and when you do go out, you have to be careful. I did a lot of reports with the US army – I had to go to Fallujah and stay with them for 15 days, which is good and bad, but at least I got to get out of the hotel! Before, journalists used to be there to cover the conflict as neutrals, but now we have become a target which has changed things a lot.
And that’s scary, no?
Yes, it is something to take into consideration every time you move around. We all have our stories and when people around you start having these bad experiences, you start to wonder, ‘when is it going to be my turn?’ The good thing about being Argentine is that nobody cares about us! Being Argentine is a great asset. First of all we’re not a rich country and secondly, we’re not really that politically-involved.
After reporting from the Middle East, how does it feel to come back to your home country and your home continent?
It’s a challenge because I think that it’s obvious that I do get involved in certain stories. Lots of people are thankful that these stories are being told, but there are others who say I am attacking my own country and giving it bad publicity – showing people starving in the north, for example. It happens and I’m sorry if you don’t like me showing it. I do believe that shedding light and doing certain stories will eventually bring about change. And I do hope that things will change – and especially because I’m Argentine.
Al Jazeera English, the 24-hour English-language news and current affairs television channel reaches more than 100m households worldwide, via satellite and cable. It can also be viewed online at www.english.aljazeera.net.