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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 1590

Once shunned, Al Jazeera enters U.S. media world: Is it an emergence of fair and balanced news coverage?

Daya Gamage - Asian Tribune Media Commentary
Washington, DC. 04 January (

“In fact viewership of al Jazeera is going up in the United States because it’s real news. You may not agree with it, but you feel like you’re getting real news around the clock instead of a million commercials and, you know, arguments between talking heads and the kind of stuff that we do on our news which, you know, is not particularly informative to us, let alone foreigners.

“Al Jazeera has been the leader in that are literally changing people’s minds and attitudes. And like it or hate it, it is really effective."

This is how America's top diplomat Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared on March 01, 2011 as reported in ABC News the following day.

Another network in February 2012 said: "America's leaders seem to have a love-hate relationship with the Middle Eastern TV network Al-Jazeera -- one week they're denouncing it as an agent of Islamic extremism, and seemingly the next week they're giving it interviews trying to woo "the Arab Street." But as the network -- which includes a fully English-language outfit called Al-Jazeera English, or AJE -- has shown for the last year, there's no better source for comprehensive coverage of one of the most important stories in the world today -- the so-called "Arab Spring." And Al-Jazeera English somehow manages to cover events in the region without cutting away every five minutes to remind us that Whitney Houston is still dead."

In February 2012, Al Jazeera English won one of America's top two journalism prizes, a George Polk Award, for its fearless coverage of one aspect of the uprising.

The George Polk Award for Television Documentary will recognize the courageous work of Al Jazeera English reporter May Ying Welsh and field producer Hassan Mahfoodin developing "Bahrain: Shouting in the Dark." When Bahrain banned foreign journalists during the Arab Spring protests, Welsh remained, working undercover with Mahfood to produce a film that gives a voice to the protesters for democratic rights and presents a harrowing, on-the-ground view of their brutal suppression. The documentary highlights the unbridled power of security forces in a key American ally on the Gulf.

It's good that Americans can see this award-winning journalism online -- because they can't see on US cable TV in most other major American cities, since Al-Jazeera English has been all but blacklisted in the United States.

Al Jazeera has long tried to convince Americans that it is a legitimate news organization, not a parrot of Middle Eastern propaganda or something more sinister.

It just bought itself 40 million more chances to make its case.

The New York Times reported in its January 3 print edition that Al Jazeera announced the previous day that it has struck a deal to take over Current TV, the low-rated cable channel that was founded by Al Gore, a former vice president, and his business partners seven years ago. Al Jazeera plans to shut Current and start an English-language channel, which will be available in more than 40 million homes, with newscasts emanating from both New York and Doha, Qatar.

For Al Jazeera, which is financed by the government of Qatar, the acquisition is a coming of age moment. A decade ago, Al Jazeera’s flagship Arabic-language channel was reviled by American politicians for showing videotapes from Al Qaeda members and sympathizers. Now the news operation is buying an American channel, having convinced Mr. Gore and the other owners of Current that it has the journalistic muscle and the money to compete head-to-head with CNN and other news channels in the United States.

he Times further reported Al Jazeera did not disclose the purchase price, but people with direct knowledge of the deal pegged it at around $500 million, indicating a $100 million payout for Mr. Gore, who owned 20 percent of Current. Mr. Gore and his partners were eager to complete the deal by Dec. 31, lest it be subject to higher tax rates that took effect on Jan. 1, according to several people who insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. But the deal was not signed until Wednesday.

With a handful of exceptions (including New York City and Washington), American cable and satellite distributors have mostly refused to carry Al Jazeera English since its inception in 2006.

While the television sets of White House officials and lawmakers were tuned to the channel during the Arab Spring in 2011, ordinary Americans who wanted to watch had to find a live stream on the Internet.

Rather than simply use Current to distribute its existing English-language channel, Al Jazeera said it plans to create a channel based in New York. Tentatively titled Al Jazeera America, roughly 60 percent of the programming will be produced in the United States, while the remaining 40 percent will come from Al Jazeera English.

Al Jazeera, which has bureaus in New York, Washington, Los Angeles, Miami and Chicago, intends to open several more in other American cities.

“There’s a major hole right now that Al Jazeera can fill. And that is providing an alternative viewpoint to domestic news, which is very parochial,” said Cathy Rasenberger, a cable consultant who has worked with Al Jazeera on distribution issues in the past. However, she warned, “there is a limited amount of interest in international news in the United States.”

The Biased Domestic News

The discussion at present is who blocked the 'real news' of the Benghazi (Libya) attack that killed the American ambassador and three officials, whether adequate security was provided by the State Department, who gave the 'talking points' to Ambassador Susan Rice to go on five TV Networks explaining what happened in Benghazi, the Republican onslaught on Obama administration and Dr. Rice misrepresenting the events in Benghazi and whether al Qaeda was really defeated as Obama administration claimed.

But no mainstream print or electronic media did not say that with the fall of Colonel Gaddhafi the void was filled by the affiliates of al Qaeda, that the revolt against the Libyan regime started in Beghazi, an areas that sent most amount of fighters to Iraq and Afghanistan to fight against Coalition Forces led by the US, and that with the fall of Gaddhafi the al Qaeda flag was hoisted in Tripoli and Benghazi, and that the affiliates of al Qaeda were mostly running the affairs of Libya with a nominal regime in place.

Media here never discussed how Colonel Gaddhafi cooperated with the CIA to dismantle the neuclear plants in Libya and provided black market suppliers. The media never talked how Colonel Gaddhafi hepled the United States' 'War on Global Terror' to decimate al Qaeda.

The track record of Al Jazeera is that all these will be revealed for domestic consumption here in the United States.

National media also did not give much publicity to Obama administration's enactment of laws that enable the military to detain suspected American citizens of terrorist links indefinitely without trial.

All electronic and print media in the United States did not report the law that was ratified by the Congress and signed by President Obama to eavesdrop without warrant and warrant-less searches of what Americans communicate in their computers.

Could Al Jazeera change this media culture?

Another under-reported news item is the collateral damage caused by CIA drone attacks in several Middle Eastern nations and North Africa killing by-standers and innocent civilians.

Will Al Jazeera change this pattern?

Al Jazeera has be forthright in reporting human rights abuses in many Middle East nations and anti-democratic measures taken by some of those countries. It has shown some independence and fairness in reporting events.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was correct when she said way back in March 2011 that “Al Jazeera has been the leader in that are literally changing people’s minds and attitudes. And like it or hate it, it is really effective."

The news coverage by both print and electronic media in the United States on domestic and foreign news are somewhat biased, and not at all fair and balanced reporting. Like some democracies in developing world they have a severe self censorship.

The American Exceptionalism is also one reason for the media here to suppress or twist American faults here and abroad.

Al Jazeera was labeled as a "terrorist network" resulting most media servers refusing to launch this Quetta-based network. But the 'lacuna' is now felt by those who are hungry for straightforward, unbiased, free and fair news coverage.

The question is whether Al Jazeera could fill that gap.

- Asian Tribune -

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