Help bring Al Jazeera English to U.S. airwaves

Israel/Palestine
on 7 Comments

I was living in Morocco at the time that Al Jazeera English launched, in November of 2006.  At the time, an English speaker could expect to have access via satellite to MBC4 and MBC2, UK-based Saudi channels that played sitcoms, films, and–seemingly–Oprah four times per day, as well as CNN International, BBC, and some form of MTV.  As an Arabic learner, I had watched Al Jazeera, but with the speed of news networks, there’s something to be said for watching in your native tongue.

By the time I moved back to the US in 2007, I’d grown used to the channel’s sharp perspective and global scope–to return to the land of MSNBC and CNN was to experience a considerable culture shock.  Of course, back then, Al Jazeera was a new channel, so it came as no surprise that it was unavailable in most of the US.  Nevertheless, I set about requesting it on my carrier, Comcast.

In 2008, I spotted a news piece about Burlington, Vermont residents and their hard-won fight to bring Al Jazeera to Burlington Telecom; having lived in Burlington, I was thrilled to learn that other Americans had won the fight, but disheartened when I learned that their struggle was met with opposition from local groups–the Israel Center and Defenders’ Council of Vermont–to prevent Burlington Telecom from carrying the channel.

This 2008 report from Al Jazeera’s Listening Post program covered the story:

The arguments presented in Burlington are echoed around the country; while supporters of the channel spoke about freedom of speech and the desire to have a global view of news, opponents largely argued that Al Jazeera is anti-American, anti-Semitic, and full of propaganda.  

Some common themes, key quotes from the arguments made in Burlington:

  • “Al Jazeera incites violence, it incites hatred, and it incites murder of Americans.”
  • “It serves to normalize and amplify a movement and a point of view and a perspective which is dangerously intolerant.”
  • “They have a right to broadcast, but we don’t necessarily have to invite them into the United States of America.”
  • Much of the rhetoric against Al Jazeera involves Israel and the channel’s apparent anti-Semitism; The irony in some of these arguments, of course, is that Israelis actually can watch Al Jazeera English from their homes.

Eventually, the Burlingtonians in favor of the channel won out, and along with the Toledo, Ohio area and Washington, D.C., that town is one of only three places in the United States where the channel is accessible.  In a select few other places–mostly urban centers on the east and west coasts–some of the channel’s programs are available.

So why not the rest of the United States?  What’s preventing your cable provider from carrying Al Jazeera English?  Part of the reasoning over the years–that is, beyond the histrionics–has been lack of demand, but in light of recent events, it seems that argument may no longer be valid.

For their part, Al Jazeera has recently launched a slick campaign for Americans to “Demand Al Jazeera”; the website (http://english.aljazeera.net/demandaljazeera/) encourages viewers to enter their zipcode to contact their local provider and demand the channel.  The site also encourages meetups for individuals to come together around their appreciation for the channel.  All in all, it’s a pretty ingenious campaign.

Nevertheless, it will take American voices–loud ones–to demand the channel make it to US airwaves.

Jillian C. York writes about free expression, politics, and the Internet, with particular focus on the Arab world. Her website is http://jilliancyork.com.

7 Responses

  1. marc b.
    February 7, 2011, 10:04 am

    “They have a right to broadcast, but we don’t necessarily have to invite them into the United States of America.”

    brilliant. a close relative of the ‘bringing democracy to the ME’ argument, ‘democracy’ being an ideal having no real place in the messy world of politics.

    “Al Jazeera incites violence, it incites hatred, and it incites murder of Americans.”

    this is horse-bleep, but if true it would make AJ not unlike FoxNews, which incites violence, hatred and the murder of Americans.

    I hate to say it, but I have a feeling that if the majority of Americans actually watched AJ for a couple of hours, their minds would be put at ease, as they would find no ‘rag heads’ or suicide bombers as reporters, just the same slick appearance that we are so used to seeing.

  2. Oscar
    February 7, 2011, 10:25 am

    I suspect it has much more to do with making sure Muslims remain dehumanized, and that Americans are forced to rely on neocon controlled MSM for their perspectives on the Middle East.

    Al jazeera is, of course, available on Microsoft’s LiveStation.com platform, especially on iPad where it comes through magnificently, and is the only channel that works in real time on the iPad.

    Once again, we have groups that appear to be full-throated anti-Americans in censoring our choice in channels. As if we need to be protected from ourselves. Depressing.

  3. Avi
    February 7, 2011, 10:25 am

    You know you’re dealing with dishonest ideologues when their chief concern is the humanization of another people.

    If Israel’s very existence is threatened when Americans start to view Arabs/Muslims as normal human beings, then something is certainly rotten.

  4. eljay
    February 7, 2011, 10:34 am

    >> What’s preventing your cable provider from carrying Al Jazeera English?

    My guess? The fear of businesses destroyed, careers shattered, reputations smeared and lives threatened by the “Israel Über Alles!” Zio-supremacist “collective” and its minions. But I could be wrong. :-)

  5. Les
    February 7, 2011, 2:37 pm

    The moronization of America is a movement that has all sorts of supporters.

  6. pronomad
    February 7, 2011, 2:58 pm

    I love Al Jazeera. I too have been a devoted viewer since they went on-air and go through withdrawal when I come back to the US; thank God for Livestation. However, I’m of two minds about their being available in the US. While I would love to get the same penetrating coverage from AJE that I expect no matter whether I’m in the US or not, part of me wonders if we wouldn’t end up with an “Al Jazeera USA” feeding us the same pablum that we have now, such as the latest doings of the phenomenally untalented Kardashians or other Hollywood luminaries, penetrating and insightful analysis from the world of yachting and golf, endless coverage of the slightest change (or not) in the weather, and the seemingly boundless appetite for school shootings, car chases, and other crime stories, just to stay “competitive.”

  7. lobewyper
    February 7, 2011, 5:44 pm

    Jillian,

    Thanks so much for this article. I totally agree with you, it is time for all Americans to have access to this important medium.

    The fact that AJE is available in Washington, DC while most of us have no cable TV access is very interesting. (Apparently, the arguments used by the anti-AJE protestors in Burlington shown in your video clip were unaware of this fact.) Why? Because wouldn’t the last folks we would want to risk exposing to “anti-American propaganda” be our own government officials? Hmm…

    I do not recall hearing any ACLU representatives defending “freedom of listening” on that clip, either.

    AJE has a reputation for speaking truth to power in a number of other regions where it possesses broadcast rights. Many of its reporters are highly credentialled–such as Clayton Swisher (who you’ll recall wrote “The Truth about Camp David”). Moreover, AJE might provide listeners with far greater access to the thinking of folks like Phil and Adam, Jerry Haber, Jerry Slater, Ali Abunimah, Steve Walt, and many others.

    Part of truth-seeking is to have free and open debate among competing positions. AJE would provide a needed stimulus to such exchange. Americans live in a country that prides itself for its freedom of expression and ready access to diverse viewpoints, but the US has in reality denied its citizens widespread access to non-MSM sources. This is both anti-democratic and hypocritical to the max.

    The argument that our current MSM are adequately objective and fair is belied by the fact that for many years now, even mildly critical reporting re: Israel and/or the Lobby can lead to swift termination.

    Phil has suggested in a previous post that Americans are about to begin a love affair with the Arab world. I think he meant–at least in part–that we are going to start seeing them as they really are: human beings just like us in all important respects. When this happens, the world is going to be a better place–for us, and for them. I can think of few things that would hasten that day more than allowing AJE to the American TV market!

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