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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Must-(not)-see TV

    When Al-Jazeera English launched Nov. 15, not many were watching: The English-language version of the controversial news network could not find any distributors willing to broadcast the channel in America.

    Were the distributors making a reasonable, profit-driven decision or falling prey to chauvinistic close-mindedness? When their customers – American television viewers – fall for the same prejudices, it’s typically hard to distinguish between the two.

    In its inaugural broadcast, Al-Jazeera English showed both Saddam Hussein’s intelligence minister and U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld denouncing the network as a talking piece for American troops and al-Qaeda terrorists, respectively. Rumsfeld himself called the network’s reporting “”vicious, inaccurate and inexcusable.””

    Al-Jazeera has long been a lighting rod for criticism – from Middle Eastern autocrats and Israeli politicians to al-Qaeda operatives and the White House. The crux of the criticism focuses on Al-Jazeera’s knack for broadcasting all points of view – even those of one’s enemy. Of course, those doing the criticizing conveniently forget that Al-Jazeera also offers a vehicle to broadcast one’s own message to the Muslim world and beyond.

    In 1996, when the Al-Jazeera news network was launched, the Middle Eastern television news scene was a barren wasteland of state-controlled riffraff. Fusing satellite technology with some entrepreneurial spirit, the founders of Al-Jazeera got their start with a $150 million grant from the emir of Qatar, where the internationally renowned network is now based.

    Al-Jazeera built its viewership by criticizing the corrupt and despotic governments of the region. Leaders tried to ignore the network as a bothersome curiosity, but over time, it built up a viewer base of more than 50 million, challenging the BBC as the most-watched international news network. But it wasn’t until late 2001 that the network became a global phenomenon, following the events of Sept. 11 and the broadcasting of the Osama bin-Laden videotapes.

    Enter American ire. Since 9/11, Osama bin-Laden has become the untouchable interview – to provide a forum for his views would draw the condemnation of most Americans. Yet, that is exactly what Al-Jazeera does. Hence, most Americans would agree with Rumsfeld’s assessment that Al-Jazeera is a propaganda machine for “”terrorists.””

    But that’s only a fraction of the picture: That same “”propaganda machine”” interviews Israeli officials – a first for an Arab news channel – and U.S. officials, including President Bush. Al-Jazeera attempts to offer a Middle Eastern view of the world, a view that is far removed from the Western networks of the BBC and CNN International.

    This can only be of benefit to America. Five media conglomerates control 90 percent of the information flow in America. None of those five conglomerates is based in the Middle East, yet that is exactly where the United States meddles the most. Al-Jazeera English would offer a more comprehensive picture of how others view America – and additionally help in policy formation.

    And Western journalists are buying into that vision. Al-Jazeera English has snatched journalists away from other Western news organizations: Riz Khan, a former anchor for CNN; Sir David Frost, a veteran British broadcaster; and even Josh Rushing, a former U.S. Marine captain who was the spokesperson for U.S. Central Command during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

    What these journalists see is a monumental opportunity to expand the Western worldview. What most Americans see is an invasion of misleading and destructive Arab reporting.

    You think that there might be a tinge of racism here? You better believe it.

    The launch of Al-Jazeera English serves as a reminder that globalization is not a one-way street. Americans often think of globalization as inexorable Americanization – shamelessly exporting our culture to the detriment of everyone else. When other societies start exporting their cultures and worldviews to us – especially during the emotionally charged war on terror – we are quick to cry foul.

    No wonder then that the distributors have shied away from broadcasting Al-Jazeera English to you on some hypothetical channel 32, somewhere in between CNN and Fox News. Indeed, we would be better off if they would: American television viewers ought to demand additional viewpoints when watching the news.

    Al-Jazeera English isn’t the terrorist news network, but it is a global, fresh perspective. God knows we need more of those.

    Matt Stone is a senior majoring in international studies and economics. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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