Al Jazeera recently tapped CBC News editor-in-chief Tony Burman as MD of its English-language service. Burman, a 35-year vet of the Canadian pubcaster, was an inspired choice for a network looking to expand its presence in North America – and one which still struggles with legitimacy in the eyes of many Western viewers.
Burman, who began his career with CBC Radio and has produced many documentaries for the pubcaster (including Mandela, Human Tragedy in the Sudan and The Last Great Cause), is a heavy hitter in the news and documentary realm.
Perhaps not surprisingly given the recent turn of events, in an article for the CBC entitled ‘Why the struggle of Arab journalists matters to us’ Burman praised the role of Arab journalists, and set them up as examples: ‘The unique challenges for Arab journalists – as they try to function in a region where unrepresentative and undemocratic governments are the norm – has produced genuine public self-examination in recent years. In response, this has resulted in increased obstacles and harassment placed in their way by many threatened Arab governments.
‘But what is significant and heartening is that the debate about media freedom within the Arab world is certainly underway and picking up momentum.’
Helping maintain that momentum is now Burman’s remit and, it has to be said, that’s a big change from his previous role at the CBC, a pubcaster that moves at a glacial pace despite the ravages of global warming. It was Socrates who once suggested the unexamined life is not worth living – Burman is certainly about to find out what it’s like to exist in a fishbowl.