Censorship of Al Jazeera news is un-American

by John Anderson

Unless you have something to do with your eyes, eating out alone can be a bit uncomfortable. As I sat in a nearly empty café sipping on my mint-infused lemonade trying not to stare at the chef, my eyes were drawn to the television mounted high above the heads of the restaurant staff. The news was on; Arabic script was flowing along the news ticker at the bottom of the screen and I noticed a telltale yellow symbol in the top right hand corner.

It was shocking to see Al Jazeera on television; after all, the channel is nigh impossible to find. Unless you have your own satellite dish and are skilled at aiming it, neither Arabic nor English versions are accessible via television in the U.S. Cox Cable TV and DirecTV subscribers looking to watch the Qatar-based news service will be frustrated, and the same goes for Time Warner Cable and Dish Network customers. A de facto corporate censorship of the channel means only the extremely determined are able to watch Al Jazeera broadcasts.

The network’s web service enjoyed a massive surge in popularity last year because of its unrivaled coverage of the revolutions exploding across the Middle East. Al Jazeera was there to provide coverage and images of the uprisings the American media was unable, or unwilling to show. While Al Jazeera was covering Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation in Tunisia and Egyptian citizens seizing control of Tahrir Square, CNN was blasting us with the latest Charlie Sheen scandal. When American news stations did finally turn their lenses on the Middle East, Al Jazeera’s coverage was more in depth and complete than anything domestic American sources offered.

The censorship of Al Jazeera leaves the American public at a disadvantage. Blocking the station means the American public is denied a vital source of information and perspective in a region we are increasingly interconnected with. Between our military occupations and our reliance on Middle East’s oil reserves, access to a news source with an Arab perspective is a valuable tool for fully understanding events in the Middle East. After all, who better to report on the Middle Eastern developments than the people who live there?

Despite its steadfast claim of maintaining editorial integrity, Al Jazeera caused quite a hubbub during the Iraq War. The airing of Osama bin Laden’s recorded messages, video of captured American soldiers and depictions of civilian casualties sparked controversy, leading to the station’s banishment from Iraq and a lobby-induced corporate blackout in the U.S. In the mean time American media glazed over much of what was really happening in Iraq and the Middle East. Perhaps television providers thought the American public was too sensitive to handle what was actually going on in the world. Perhaps a nefarious government-sponsored propaganda machine was at work. We may never know the true motivations behind the block. Citing pressure from the Bush Administration and fear of losing viewers, television providers have continued to block the service.

The loss of viewership argument seems a bit thin considering the explosion of American traffic to Al Jazeera’s website in recent months. Additionally, a Huffington Post interview with the former editor in chief of the of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation found the station’s introduction into Canadian television was met with “extremely little negative reaction … as Canadians have been able to view the channel and decide for themselves.” Admittedly, this isn’t Canada, but we are quite capable of observing and forming an opinion about the news organization ourselves. Tiered pricing schemes already in place allow cable and satellite television providers a perfect opportunity to include the service without offending their customers.

Censorship is as un-American as it gets. By blocking Al Jazeera, we are undermining the values from which we draw our national pride. We are undermining our freedom of speech, press and expression. A few television providers have indicated openness to broadcasting Al Jazeera on their networks. If enough interest is generated, adding the station becomes common sense. Go to aljazeera.net and watch its live stream. With just a few clicks, send a pre-written email to your television provider requesting the station.

The next time you call Cox to complain about how slow the Internet is, mention you’d like to see Al Jazeera English in its channel lineup. Gain a new perspective, broaden your horizons, challenge the status-quo of watered down American journalism. Demand the freedom to make up your own mind about Al Jazeera.

—John Anderson is an ISCOR junior.

—The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Daily Aztec.

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