Archive for June 24th, 2008

Who decides what we should/shouldn’t watch?

24 June 2008

News has not been in short supply in the global village in the satellite age.

There are the “Indian” English news channels: NDTV 24×7, CNN-IBN, Times Now, Headlines Today. And the Hindi news channels: Aaj Tak, Star News, NDTV India, IBN 7, DD News, India TV. And the language news channels: Udaya, Sun, Suvarna, TV9, Teja, IBN Lokmat. And the business news channels: CNBC-TV18, NDTV Profit, UTVi. And the “foreign” English news channels: CNN, BBC, Fox.

Why, in this veritable welter of vaartha, do we not receive Al Jazeera?

The ground-breaking Qatar-based Arabic channel launched an English version more than a year-and-a-half ago. Staffed with big names, not short of resources, and not short of good ideas, “Al-Jazeera English” provides a much-needed respite from the stuffiness of its western competitors and from the itsy-bitsyness of their Indian counterparts. Yet, few Indian homes receive the Arab view of the world.

And so, it transpires, don’t homes in the land of the free and the independent.

America’s ultra-patriotic cable networks have steadfastly refused to carry “Al Jazeera English”. Result: the channel is only available to those who choose to sample its fare online on YouTube, or buy a dish antenna.

The channel has been accused of “hate-mongering” towards Americans; of inciting “violence, hatred and murder” against Israelis and Jews; of waging a “soft, subtle, cultural jihad”; of being a propaganda tool—charges that could be flung on those making them with equal efficacy. Nonetheless, the manner in which Al Jazeera English has been blacked out in the United States raises the simple question: who decides what we should watch, and what we shouldn’t?

The tiny town of Burlington (population 39,000) in “liberal” Vermont is an exception (along with Toledo, Ohio). There, the City owns the cable network, and has been offering subscribers “Al Jazeera English”. After complaints from pro-Israeli groups, public hearings have been held, where those in favour of the channel outnumbered those against 6-1 and a decision will soon be made.

“Al Jazeera is an opportunity for us to learn more. If anyone doesn’t want to learn more, there is a simple solution: they can switch to a different channel.”

“There is a cable news network that I personally think if full of hatred, full of propaganda, full of half-truths, and that is Fox News.”

Cross-posted on churumuri

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