Back in 2006, when Al Jazeera English, the English language sister news channel to Al Jazeera in Arabic, launched, I really wanted to watch it. I called our satellite company and asked which channel number it would be assigned, only to discover that they had no intention of carrying the station -- ever. When I asked why, I was told in no uncertain terms that this company did not support "terror television." Since the channel was brand new, I wondered how they had determined that it broadcast "terror" and decided to shop for a cable service that carried it instead. My luck was no better in that arena than it had been with the satellite provider. Just like the kid who has never tasted spinach announces that he doesn't like it, our local satellite and cable providers had blacklisted Al Jazeera English before the station had had an opportunity to prove itself.
"Everyone is in favor of free speech. Hardly a day passes without its being extolled, but some people's idea of it is that they are free to say what they like, but if anyone else says anything back, that is an outrage." -- Winston Churchill

Three years later, the new satellite system that the Amazing Egyptian Dude had installed several months ago has given us access to Al-Jazeera English under the Free-to-Air format. I have been able to watch it and assess for myself just how much "terror" the station broadcasts. Instead of "terror television," as countless fear and many believe it is, I have found Al-Jazeera English to be a news source every bit as valuable to the American audience as the Western mega news channels.

Much like CNN, Al-Jazeera English's hosts and reporters come from around the world. With such a diverse base, the channel is able to offer a true global perspective on the news. Take, for example, the case of Josh Rushing, whose report on Fault Lines, "Lone Star: The Death of a Small Town," chronicles the decline of the steel industry in his hometown of Lone Star, Texas, and illustrates how a small town with a population of less than 1700 people is dying because of the current economic crisis. The coverage of California's budget crisis and its impact on the state's poor in "California: Failed State" has been exemplary, as well. I suppose, though, that considering how bad off the Golden State really is at the moment, one could call this report, at least, "terror television." All in all, though, I fail to see what the hype and fear-mongering over Al Jazeera English is all about.

More and more, news reporting has become like the informercials that plague late, late night television: full of hype, rife with loaded language, and often downright comical to watch. CNN says it delivers “All news, all the time”; FOX claims to offer “Fair and balanced news reporting”; MSNBC uses technology to deliver "a fuller spectrum of news." Bells, whistles, catchy tag lines, slogans, and visually appealing hosts aside, each of these mega news channels claims to report the news. While this all sounds well and good, the truth of the matter is that even in the No-Spin Zone, far more spinning than reporting takes place on these channels. MSNBC caters to the far left, FOX delivers news with a distinctive far right twist, and CNN feeds both audiences.

Perhaps because I have a background in language analysis and research, or maybe just because I love to argue (not in the negative sense as in to scream and hurl insults, but to weigh the pros and cons of an issue using reason, logic, and facts), I learned long ago never to rely on a single source for important information. Recalling my mom's wise advice to me and my sisters whenever we fought with one another, I know that the truth lies somewhere in the middle of the "my side vs. your side" equation. And it is that middle ground, that truth, that I strive to find. Thus when it comes to the news, I follow a single story from multiple sources, analyzing the use of language, word choices, and presentation of facts to determine wherein that middle ground, or truth, can be found. It's not as hard as one might think to figure out a news source's position on an issue just by examining word choices and understanding denotation and connotation.

Mega news channels do have their place in American society. They all spin events to suit the ideology of their viewing audience; they are, after all, for profit entities and without an adequate rating to generate advertising dollars, these mega channels would fail. For those of us who long for the days of old-fashioned news reporting Edward R. Murrow style, however, they all leave a much to be desired.

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5 Responses
  1. Nessa Says:

    I rarely watch the news as i find it way too biased to be of much value as a source of news.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    Walter Cronkite also comes to mind. They day of "fair and balanced" is a thing of the past if you ask me. My TV is always on CNN. I don't know why, it just is and it's just noise. I know they have their opinion just as any news organization does. When it comes to something very important, I'm channel surfing to say the least. What amazes me about this post is the fact that your cable company assumed Al Jazeera English to be terror television? Isn't that a sad day in our society that because of a name, it conjurs up an image before being viewed and studied by the powers that be to see if it really is? Amazing to me

  3. Carleen Says:

    Walter Cronkite is another old school reporter from the school of Murrow -- thanks for reminding me! Hubby and I both like Ted Koppel a lot, too, as he also digs beneath the surface to uncover facts.

    As for the satellite and cable companies, they were just in keeping with Bush's rules of censorship.

    Censorship has been a subject that has held my fascination for quite some time now, and one that I taught every single semester in the hopes of raising students' awareness of the fact that, despite the First Amendment, it happens here in the land of the free and the home of the Braves. As a result of my interest in the subject and the response of the satellite and cable companies, I did some further research and found that the channel was blocked here in the US because the Bush administration viewed Al Jazeera in Arabic to be "dangerous" for airing tapes from Osama bin Laden.

    Personally, I think that had anyone been fighting in the right place -- Afghanistan -- those tapes might have come in handy for catching the SOB!

  4. Anonymous Says:

    Touche' my dear...touche'

  5. RA Says:

    Biased news never was appealing to me. I feel so sorry that it spreads so much hatred and prejudice nowadays, whereas it could do otherwise. Hopefully this will change in the future.

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