I first met Mohamed Nanabhay, the 29-year-old South African, during the 3rd Annual Aljazeera Forum in Doha, Qatar, in 2007. Mohamed is a prominent blogger, a friend and a colleague from Global Voices covering Qatar where he is based. Mohamed is the former Aljazeera head of New Media and the mastermind of the Aljazeera’s successful invasion of the Web.
Aware that traditional mainstream media outlets, such as radio, TV and newspapers, are losing audience to new platforms, he developed a new Web-inspired business strategy for Aljazeera, finding new news sources, experimenting new tools and engaging people wherever they are and drive them between venues.
“We are using exactly the same tools as others on the Internet, like bloggers and anyone in the new media industry. We are looking at Youtube, Facebook, Flickr, Twitter…anywhere where people are congregating, having a conversation and posting content. These are the places where we operate and try to be involved in,” he told me “so, we are looking at how can we proactively engage online and make our content available to our audience. We don’t treat our audience as criminals. They are the people who watch us, they are the people who will be produceful. Our experiment with the Creative Commons license is to say how can we take our content and make legally available building on an existing copyright law“.
But the challenges are immense: fighting the internal resistance to change and winning over the skeptics online are not easy tasks.
“The media industry is going through a phenomenal transformation. As everything goes online and everything became digital, the way we deal with media has to change,” said Mohamed, “and that poses challenges to most content industries. We’ve seen what happened to the music industry when all the music went online with P2P and so on; they are trying to figure out what the business model is. The same thing is happening to Hollywood at the moment and to other content producers as well“.
On 13 Jan 2009, Al Jazeera has started to share some of its footage of the military conflict in Gaza under the most permissive Creative Commons license that allows commercial re-use and remixing. And of course, Mohamed is very excited about this experiment. “Wikipedia contributers immediately grabbed the content, started taking the videos and pulling out still images to compliment wikipedia articles,” he said, “we’ve saw many non-governmental organizations, activists groups take the content and use it for their own promo videos, other broadcasters are using it, such as the RAI in Italy, video games producers are starting using it. It’s quite exciting to see what happens when you allow people to use your content.”
Undoubtedly, Aljazeera has revolutionized the approach to media in the Arab world, and it seems that the Web is revolutionizing Aljazeera approach to news gathering and news dissemination. “We hope that we are at the forefront of the revolution, maybe to be an avant-garde of it in the digital age and really push it forward and innovate,” Mohamed said.
I met Mohamed again last week in Germany during the Berkman Center & Aspen Institute Event on Internet & Democracy in the Middle East and he was kind enough to share with us some of his thought about this Web-driven revolution within Aljazeera. Thanks Mohamed.