Kimberly Halkett used to be a handbag saleswoman.
Now, she travels around the world to cover stories for the international news network Al-Jazeera English.
More recently, Halkett traveled to Richmond to talk with a group of VCU students about her experience as a reporter at the fast-paced, often-controversial news outlet.
The Department of Mass Communications and VCU’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists hosted “A Conversation with Al-Jazeera’s Kimberly Halkett” Monday night.
Halkett talked with students about the nature of Al-Jazeera’s reporting and her journey to the international network.
Al-Jazeera English is a branch of the larger international news network run out of Washington, D.C. It began in 2006, and since that time, has been criticized by many American politicians. Most notably in 2007, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called the network “the mouthpiece of al-Qaida.”
Halkett took time while she was at VCU to discuss why the general public may misunderstand Al-Jazeera’s goals and coverage.
“The bottom line is that (Al-Jazeera) tell(s) stories about people,” Halkett said in a reception preceding her presentation. “We believe in fairness, we adhere to human rights and international law, and maybe some of the people that are complaining aren’t following some of those guidelines.”
Al-Jazeera has a strict code of ethics and structures their stories to always showcase all sides to a story.
According to Halkett, Al-Jazeera operates in over 60 countries across the world with a staff of approximately 3,000 people and about 400 journalists. While Al-Jazeera English is run from inside the United States, the network focuses on regions of the world that don’t get a lot of media attention, like Latin America, Africa and Southeast Asia.
“(Al-Jazeera) seek to cover all those stories out there, not ones that are dictated by corporations or politicians,” Halkett said during her discussion.
“Before Al-Jazeera, a lot of people didn’t have a voice.”
The network, which is funded by the Emir of Qatar, is only available in certain pockets of the United States, not including Richmond. Halkett said it could be because of some of the misunderstanding surrounding
“Misconceptions and misperceptions are out there because (Americans) don’t have the ability to see for themselves,” Halkett said.
Despite how Americans might currently perceive the network, Halkett said she believes that most Americans would embrace Al-Jazeera, if they were exposed to it.
“I think that there’s an appetite for real news out there; it’s just not being delivered,” Halkett said. “I think people would probably like to see a product that is free of those commercial constraints we see on traditional news networks … and the fact that we don’t have those constraints allows us to tell those stories that just aren’t being told.”
Although Al-Jazeera is funded by a governmental figure in Qatar, Halkett said the Emir is “very hands-off” in his approach and created Al-Jazeera to help establish his country beyond their current economic successes.
Halkett provided a website where interested students and faculty could ask for Al-Jazeera to be provided in their area.
Kristine Hadeed, the public relations and communications chair of VCU’s SPJ chapter said Halkett did a good job explaining Al-Jazeera to the students.
Hadeed said Al-Jazeera has a limited audience, especially among college students, and Halkett’s visit helped students see beyond local and familiar news networks.
“(The event) expanded our horizons for … looking for what kinds of job opportunities we might look for after we graduate,” she said.
Halkett is confident in Al-Jazeera’s ability to appeal to a wide range of people, including Americans who may be unsure of what Al-Jazeera actually does, but recognizes that it may take time for many to come around. She also knows that it will take a while for Al-Jazeera to finish reporting on more neglected topics in the world.
“There’s so many great stories out there,” Halkett said. “It would take a million lifetimes to cover it all.”
To see how to get Al-Jazeera English on TV near you, visit iwantaje.net.
Photo by Mel Kobran