The battle over diversity in the American media reached a head recently through a debate in the town of Burlington, Vermont, over whether to continue airing the award-winning news channel Al Jazeera English. Jalal Ghazi of New America Media was there.
If you live in Israel, you can watch Al Jazeera English because its two largest cable systems, Yes TV and HOT Television, have bounced both CNN International and BBC World News in favor of Al Jazeera English.
If you live in Britain, you can also watch Al Jazeera English but you can't watch FOX News because in the eyes of the British regulatory watchdog, Fox has failed to meet the minimum requirement of regulatory licensing laws of objective and neutral news. However, if you live in the United States, you can't watch Al Jazeera because major American cable systems, including Time Warner Cable, Comcast and Fox Reality, have refused to carry Al Jazeera English.
If Americans want to watch Al Jazeera, they must buy a satellite dish from GlobeCast, a division of France Telecom. Toledo, Ohio, is one of the only two American cities that offers its residents the opportunity to watch Al Jazeera on their cable system, the other being Vermont's largest city, Burlington.
Recently, Al Jazeera English has been the center of a public debate in Burlington on whether it should stay in their city-owned cable system or be taken off the air. The residents that attended the public meeting were in a way the American jury deciding the fate of Al Jazeera for their town but symbolically for the United States. Al Jazeera understands the significance of this event, which explains why it was the main featured story of its media watch program, The Listening Post.
Al Jazeera English also sent two representatives to defend the television station: Al Jazeera English Managing Director Tony Burman and Josh Rushing, a former Marine spokesperson who served as a Marine Corps media liaison for 14 years before turning to Al Jazeera English. Rushing, who helped sell the war in Iraq to the American public as a Marine spokesperson, is now one of most effective spokesmen for Al Jazeera.
WATCH 'THE TRIAL OF AL JAZEERA' FROM AL JAZEERA'S LISTENING POST
The controversy over Al Jazeera English started in May when Burlington Telecom's General Manager Chris Burns decided to drop the channel from the municipally-owned telecommunications company due to the large number of complaints. However, Mayor Bob Kiss demanded that the channel not be pulled out until city residents had a chance to express their views.
Two separate forums were organized in late May and mid-June where citizens were given a platform to express their views about Al Jazeera English before Burlington Telecom's two oversight committees: the Telecommunications Advisory Committee and the Cable Advisory Council.
(This article was republished with permission from New America Media, a subsidiary of Pacific News Service. Jalal Ghazi is the associate producer of the Peabody Award-winning show, "Mosaic: World News from the Middle East," and writer of the column "Eye on Arab Media" for New America Media.)