Not in America's House
Pierre Tristam/Candide's Notebooks, November 15, 2006
Al-Jazeera's English-language service began today, with a potential audience of 80 million worldwide. It's been hyped and buzzed in the United States. But if you live here, you won't be able to see any of it. At least not on your TV. Al-Jazeera is being polite about it: "There is no free space for us on the US cable network", according to the channel's commercial director Lindsey Oliver. A combination of the word bull and something more eschatological comes to mind. Al-Jazeera's English edition has been in the works for a couple of years. In the past year new cable channels for toddlers, for homosexuals (not that there's, etc...), for blacks, for shoppers and alleged Christians have been added. The spectrum widens perpetually. It's America's other obesity problem. And you want to tell me that there was no room for Al-Jazeera's channel? I'm not attacking al-Jazeera here, but pointing out the duplicity of America's cable barons.
The Washington Post was more upfront about Al-Jazeera's absence: "When AJE goes on the "air" today after several months of delay, the air will be virtual across North America; the only way to see the channel in the United States will be on a computer as it streams over the Internet. The reasons for that are not clear. Jenni Moyer, spokeswoman for Comcast, the nation's largest cable company, says: "We were in discussions with them, but a decision has been made not to carry them. Beyond that, we're not commenting." AJE officials think they understand why the reception has been so chilly: Al Jazeera English can't escape al-Jazeera's long shadow." In other words, the censorship of al-Jazeera continues. We know where the Bush administration stands on this. To it, Al-Jazeera might as well be a bomb crater. But this isn't the administration's doing. It's corporate censorship, which is ultimately worse: there's no recourse. It's the "free market" freely exercising its repression. Americans and their cable operators are more comfortable staying tuned to cash-cowing evangelists and Foxy propagandists than giving a new perspective a try. Then again, here we are, seventy years into the television age and a couple of decades into the satellite age: When, as an American viewer somewhat south of the 49th parallel, have you ever had a chance to get a Canadian channel on your line-up, let alone French, British, German channels other than the meager mish-mash of collated programming available on some cable or satellite providers? (The Dish Network, curiously, makes al-Jazeera's Arabic service available in the U.S.) A global age of communication and cross-border discovery? Not in the United States.