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Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Jon Stewart and Al Jazeera

Last night Jon Stewart interviewed Al Jazeera Washington bureau chief, Abderrahim Foukara. In the course of the interview, they talked several times about the very different images one sees of Gaza (or Iraq or Afghanistan for that matter) on Arab TV like Al Jazeera or on American TV - the reality of death and destruction on Arab TV, a strictly whitewashed view on American TV. Stewart "explained" or "excused" this by saying, and he was 100% serious, "American audiences are not big on gore."

This conversation followed shortly after an advertisement for "Saw V," one of the goriest movies around.

No, Jon, American audiences are fine with gore. It's the American ruling class which doesn't even want us to see flag-draped coffins returning from Iraq, much less hundreds of mutilated bodies of dead Palestinians. That absence is one more tool in their arsenal to maintain American support for America's murderous foreign policy, and they won't give it up lightly.

Since I'm on the subject of Al Jazeera, first I have to mention how grateful I am that I recently discovered the ability to watch Al Jazeera over the Internet on Livestation. And it isn't just Gaza and Middle East issues like that. Right now, for example, Al Jazeera is broadcasting the Obama inauguration, not with clowns like Chris Matthews you'd see on CNN or MSNBC, but with Robert Fisk, Naomi Klein, Hannan Ashrawi, and others. People with real knowledge. What a concept.

But why do I have to watch it on the Internet? It so happens that about a month ago my old TV gave up the ghost, and the repair shop informed me that parts were no longer available to fix it, so a new TV was in order. Naturally, given the times, the new one I bought was an HD version, and in conjunction with that, I finally upgraded to digital cable (actually, for six months, at a lower price I had been paying). Now I only have the basic package, but even with that I get all sorts of things I wasn't getting before, and from the listings I can see the dozens and dozens of stations I have access to if I want to pay for it. And there are plenty of "holes." The stations go from 1 to 999, and there aren't 999 channels being broadcast. There's plenty of room for one more station, and there are all sorts of niche channels which surely have smaller audiences than Al Jazeera would have.

So why isn't Al Jazeera being carried by my local service (Comcast)? It can't be money, since Al Jazeera is making their content available for free on the Internet. No, there can only be one explanation - a conscious decision to exclude them from the airwaves. Indeed, there are only a handful (or fewer) of cable operators in the entire country carrying Al Jazeera. This article from 2006 claims that four New York cable providers had all decided against carrying Al Jazeera on the completely specious grounds that "With so many news shows on the air already, they claim, Al Jazeera doesn’t add much to the media mix."

The truth lies elsewhere, as anyone watching Al Jazeera even for a few days can plainly see.

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