05 April 2008

The Sina.com petition against CNN and BBC has hit over 1.6 million signatures as of this writing, and will probably close out at 2 million before the weekend is over. I find the whole thing funny because I don’t understand how anyone can take so seriously a network that offers programs like MainSail, or Larry King Live for that matter. With the recent news of Dave Marash’s departure from Al Jazeera English, I can’t help but notice that AJE is still not available from any US cable or satellite provider, though available in 100 million households in 60 countries.

The Al Jazeera Arabic parent network has been condemned in the past by members of the US government, most famously Donald Rumsfeld’s remark in April 2004: “I can definitively say that what Al Jazeera is doing is vicious, inaccurate and inexcusable.” What Al Jazeera was reporting, and showing in graphic images, that upset Rumsfeld so much was that many civilians were being killed in U.S. bombings. Rumsfelds comments echoed senior military spokesperson Mark Kimmitt who said a few days before “The stations that are showing Americans intentionally killing women and children are not legitimate news sources. That is propaganda, and that is lies.”

Conservative Americans have criticized Al Jazeera, both Arabic and English, for being a “mouthpiece for Al Qaeda” and a source of anti-semitic and anti-US propaganda, though others have pointed out that its hardly more biased then other global news networks. American cable providers probably don’t carry it because 1) there isn’t a huge outcry to carry it and 2) some of the conservative groups campaigning against Al Jazeera would launch protests and boycotts. Meanwhile, even Israelis, whose government has criticized the Arabic network in the past, have access to Al Jazeera English, and for six years the US cable provider Time Warner has carried CCTV-9, which is good and truly a mouthpiece it there ever was one.

Now ex-AJE correspondent Marash says there’s still an important reason to watch Al Jazeera English:

But you know, the thing that I loved best about the original concept was the sort of fugue of points of view and opinions, because I think that’s what desperately needed in the world. We need to know, for example, in America, how angry the rest of the world is at Americans. Our own news media tend to shelter us from this very unpleasant news. So if you watched and every piece seemed tendentious and pissed you off, and I don’t think that would be the case, but even if worst case the channel turned shrill and shallow, you would still want to watch them on the principle that millions—tens of millions—of people watch them every day and you need to know what’s going on in their brains.

This is precisely the sort of argument that many would make about CNN and BBC to those on the Chinese Mainland: Chinese people may disagree with it, even hate it, but their own news media tends to shelter them from unpleasant news and its important that Chinese people know what the rest of the world is thinking, just as Americans need to know what the Arab world is thinking, and so on and so on. It’s worth remembering, though, that China’s not the only place where people only seek out voices just like theirs.

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