By Dom Serafini
What’s the story? Are Americans more afraid of propaganda or of straight news? If propaganda is the problem, then why is Fox News so popular? On the other hand, if straight news is the problem, it explains the popularity of reporting on Paris Hilton, and the virtual ban in the U.S. of al-Jazeera, the all-news English-language TV channel.
Washington D.C.-based Accuracy in Media (AIM), a kind of Fox News “fair and balanced” -type of organization for which even the Wall Street Journal is too “radical,” has campaigned hard against al-Jazeera International –– as the English service is officially called –– to the point of having sponsored the website, www.stopaljazeera.org. AIM is even upset with GloboCast, the France Telecom subsidiary that is providing the satellite’s U.S. footprint.
Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld defined the al-Jazeera TV news service as “a mouthpiece of al-Qaeda,” as if he himself were the most trusted source of news. Many elected U.S. officials refuse to be interviewed by al-Jazeera International.
But, in my view, the problem is not the American public preferring propaganda to straight news; it is only the “feed ‘em cake” type of corporate media attitude. Just think: Authoritative U.S. media groups would go to bat in order to preserve their rights to cuss on the air –– in order to attract that Paris Hilton crowd –– but are afraid that educated and informed reporting from a well respected news service could make political opportunists like AIM jump on trees and start acting like nuts to attract squirrels.
That al-Jazeera International is well respected and newsworthy is indicated by the fact that, despite being only 11-months-old, it has already won one gold and two silver trophies from PROMAX, the Los Angeles-based marketing association.
Those political fundamentalists who call the service “anti-American” refuse to see that it is very professional and staffed with experienced and respected newspeople from many U.S. and U.K. news organizations. But we also know that the moniker “anti-American” is a code word to keep out of the U.S. any news, which could reveal the shenanigans of the Iraq War and the Bush administration’s disservice to Americans and to the world.
Indeed, among the respectable names working for al-Jazeera International, is David Frost, a TV host popular in the U.K. and in the U.S., especially for his 1977 exclusive interviews with disgraced U.S. president Richard Nixon. Today, from London, Sir David produces a weekly program for the al-Jazeera English channel.
In the U.S., among al-Jazeera International’s correspondents is Josh Rushing, a former captain in the U.S. Marines and spokesperson at the U.S. military’s central command in Doha, the capital of Qatar. Not for nothing, al-Jazeera International is very popular with the Pentagon.
When I asked AIM: “If you consider al-Jazeera reporting anti-American, what about other international TV services that are widely distributed in the U.S. such as: RAI International (Italy), BBC World (U.K.), DW (Germany), TVE (Spain), TV5 (France), etc.?
Some of them, such as RAI International, even show naked women. Cliff Kincaid, AIM’s key architect of Stop al-Jazeera, answered: “We are concerned about al-Jazeera because we are engaged in a war with radical Islam, and the channel has been an outlet for enemy propaganda. We have, however, published some AIM Reports on the BBC’s bias as well.”
The Qatar-based Arabic channel’s English-language offspring of al-Jazeera received a hostile reception in the U.S. from the start, when it began the new service last November.
I’m not exaggerating. Just scan the headlines: “Al-Jazeera braves hostility to give news diversity to U.S.,” wrote the Financial Times. “Al-Jazeera struggles to be seen,” titled the Los Angeles Times.
Only two cable systems –– Buckeye Cablesystem of northern Ohio, and BT in Burlington, Vermont –– are carrying the news service so far. Major MSOs, such as Time Warner, have avoided it. Allan Block, the owner of Buckeye Cablesystem reported to have received “threats mostly from those kind folks in the Bible Belt,” which fortunately is outside the Ohio area.
For al-Jazeera’s part, however, we notice a debilitating bureaucracy, which could have been the cause of such poor carriage in the U.S. For example, asked to respond to a few basic questions, one of their three PR offices (in the U.S., U.K. and Qatar) requested four weeks to give us the answers.
Shunned by almost every cable service in the U.S., the English-language al-Jazeera has turned to the Web to reach American viewers — with much more success. Indeed, Google has come to the channel’s rescue by offering the service on its YouTube, where one could follow its excellent investigations. Since April, when it struck this distribution deal with YouTube, the channel has received two million hits. Talk about “new” media giving the “old” media a run for its money!