Two developments caught my attention this week. Launching nearly simultaneously in the next two weeks are the full-fledged cable channel of Al Jazeera English and EWTN News Nightly, a new daily news program on the Catholic Eternal Word Television Network.

Each of these networks has come a long way. If you haven’t seen either recently, you should take a look. The technical sophistication of each is impressive.

Now, you might ask, what ties these two things together? Each would object to the comparison, with some justification, but it cannot be denied that, in some minds, there are parallels. The most obvious parallel is one that is the most problematic: that is that Al Jazeera is somehow a mouthpiece for a global Islamic-Jihadist conspiracy, in the same way that a news program on the clearly confessional EWTN channel must necessarily be a mouthpiece for the Catholic worldview (and the conservative Catholic worldview at that). Suspicions of Al Jazeera’s motives and foundations are, of course, rife, and are referenced in much coverage of the launch as in this column by the Denver Post’s Joanne Ostrow.

There are few, if any, suspicions of EWTN’s motives. Perhaps because EWTN is clearly sectarian and makes no bones about it.

But, it is interesting to note that both Al Jazeera and EWTN claim to be doing the same thing. Each says they are about “pure journalism.” It is worth reading Al Jazeera’s statements here and here. They describe missions very much like that of other major news organs. They deny bias, as do their competitors such as Fox, CNN, and MSNBC. The proof will be in the performance, but so far the signals are very interesting and compelling. They’ve hired some very fine and experienced journalists who presumably would not be part of a journalism scam. I will be watching with great interest.

It is also worth looking at EWTN’s promo of its new series (above, at least for now). Even more interesting is an extended interview with EWTN News Nightly’s anchor Colleen Carroll Campbell. Each of these identifies their effort with traditional journalistic values of truth and objectivity. They make much of this.

But, there is a twist in the EWTN rhetoric. They also make it clear that it will be objectivity within a certain frame: the frame of Catholic faith. Campbell attempts a careful balance of objectivity with framing, but with limited success. Her extensive ruminations on the bias of the “secular media” seems intended to point to a balancing bias in the work of EWTN.

Her interview raises an even more compelling question when she is asked about what it was like to be EWTN’s anchor from Rome for the recent Papal election. She described it as a real pleasure. For once, she notes, she could be “…fully present in my faith and in my work.” The implication is that normally she cannot bring the two together, and that in the new news program she will be able to. But she reveals a blinder in not recognizing that even a Papal election is a “hard news” story justifying traditional journalistic treatment. Only for the pious would it be an opportunity to put objectivity on the shelf.

So, I’m fascinated that Al Jazeera will continue to operate under the cloud of suspicion that it has a confessional motive, while EWTN’s claims of objectivity seem to be passing without so much as a raised eyebrow.

It will be interesting to see how each of these develops.