Fight over al-Jazeera in Burlington, Vermont


There's been an interesting news story out of Burlington, Vermont - a great town if you ever have a chance to visit. The city of Burlington owns the city's cable television service and their cable system is one of only two, apparently, in the United States that carries al-Jazeera's English-language 24-hr news channel.

A small group of people have come together to demand that Burlington drop al-Jazeera from its cable service, claiming that al-Jazeera is anti-American and anti-Israeli and is engaged in "cultural Jihad" against the United States. Yes - people like this really do exist. Advocates for keeping al-Jazeera remind detractors that they can simply "turn the channel," and insist that as freedom-lovers they cherish al-Jazeera's presence on their local cable system as an exercise in diversity of viewpoints.

There have been a number of public hearings and discussions, and it appears that a final decision from the city government as to what will happen is being put on hold. The YouTube video embedded above is al-Jazeera's own television report on the controversy. You can listen to an excellent piece from NPR's Day to Day about the story here.

What do you think? Should al-Jazeera English have a space on your dial next to CNN, Fox News, the BBC, etc.? Does the presence of al-Jazeera in American communities represent a fifth-column threat to the safety of our nation, or does it empower Americans by contributing another viewpoint to our diverse media landscape? What say ye?

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Having grown up there and being a resident for 26 years, before getting out, I'm entirely unsurprised.

Vermont (including Burlington) is not nearly as conservative as they like to think of themselves.

They also like to complain...a lot.

Burlington can be a great town, I guess. If you like mediocre food, little entertainment, a homogenized and pedestrian music scene and drinking, because there's very little to do that you can't find much, much better someplace else. In winter, it is a pit of slush and you would do well to avoid it.

If it's the scenery and quiet, laid-back thing you're looking for, go to Stowe or any of the small towns that dot Vermont. Burlington is overrated.
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It depends on what they are broadcasting really. If the alternative viewpoint is Jew-hatred and Islamic supremacism along with conspiracy theories then hell no! We see what that has wrought in Islamic-dominated countries. (shows on how to properly beat your wife etc...go see whats on MEMRI for more examples of some Islamic media)
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As an American who lives part-year in France and watches Al Jazeera English regularly, I hope that Burlington maintains their original, commendable, decision to offer the station.

Compared to other major international news stations (BBC international; CNN international; France 24..), Al Jazeera English offers the widest coverage of stories in all regions of the world. (I won't mention the U.S. networks, which, as far as international stories go, are barely worthy of being regarded as genuine news sources) Its coverage of Africa is at least comparable to that of the BBC and its coverage of the Middle East, Asia, and Latin America is more extensive than that of any of other stations, all of which I have watched. Stories are often longer and more in depth than those aired by the other majors. If you want to get a sense of major developments in places like Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, Irag, China, ...(and yes, even Israel, Al Jazeera is overall the best English-language network to watch.

I have found the reporting on Al Jazeera English to be very objective. Unlike their counterparts on American stations, Al Jazeera commentators do not try to be 'entertainers' and normally refrain from the editorialising via sighs, pauses, and other theatrical gestures that you see all too often on American stations. I too find it difficult to believe that any honest person who really had watched Al Jazeera English (while sober) could make the assertions advanced by one of the earlier writers here.

A few minutes ago, I watched a several minute segment on the latest glitch in the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. The reporting stuck to the facts, on both sides: that Israel closed the crossings into Gaza after rocket attacks by a (non-Hamas) faction in Gaza; and that those responsible for the rockets claimed that they were in response to Israel attacks on members of their group in the West Bank. Just the facts. The story was followed by an equally objective story on recent killings of civilians by American soldiers. It mentioned the anger of many Iraquis about these deaths but it also clearly reported that the deaths occurred in the course of raids or other combat and reported the justifications given by American military authorities.

It would not be possible to show the Iraq story on an American station, of course. The Al Jazeera story showed bodies of some of those killed, which violates the injunction against disturbing Americans by showing them what war really involves. Even without the bodies, even hints that Iraqis might be less than thrilled with the American presence is something that major U.S news outlets seem to deem inappropriate for broadcast.

This is really the problem. News and objective informed discussion in the media have become so limited that something more objective and in-depth seems alien, like it has come from another planet. Too many people believe that truth, if it is unpalatable, is propaganda; that reality is unpatriotic if it doesn't fit preconceptions. (I am always struck when I return to the U.S. by how much public debate of key issues is restricted by political correctness and 'things we all know'). Opposition to Al Jazeera Enlish also fits with the broader Islamophobia that unfortunately has become all too widespread in the U.S.

Retention of Al Jazeera English by Burlington would be a small step, but a useful one, toward a more rational approach to understanding the rest of the world. So I hope they will do the right thing.
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As the Cable Advisory Committee probes if having Al Jazeera English brings any value to Burlington viewers, it may look at how the jury at two presigious media awards looked at AJE's merits and demerits.

Al Jazeera English has excelled at the 17th Amnesty International UK Media Awards announced in London on 17th June . The awards recognise excellence in human rights reporting and acknowledge journalism's significant contribution to the UK public's awareness and understanding of human rights issues. In the category of International television and radioAl Jazeera English's entry "The lost tribe - Secret army of the CIA" was declared the winner. The team which contributed in the production of this documentray comprised Eunice Lau, Stephanie Scawen, Tricia Tan and Tony Birtley.

The other two contestants short-listed were:
Assignment: Louisiana burning, BBC World Service - Joanna Mills, Jeremy Skeet, Mike Williams Inside Myanmar - the crackdown, Al Jazeera English - Tony Birtley, Lucy Keating, Marcus Cheek, Badrul Hisham.

Those serving on the Amnesty's panel of judges for entries in the category of International television and radio were Mike Blakemore, Katherine Butler, Tim Marshall, Naresh Puri and Tim Singleton.

It may be recalled that on 10th June 2008, the award for “Best 24 Hour News Program” at the 48th Monte Carlo Television Festival conferred upon Al Jazeera English is not an aberration, but, one in a series of accomplishments scored by a news channel launched only in November 2006. The award recognized Al Jazeera English’s “extensive international reach and efforts to dig deeper to give its international audience a richer understanding of the events that affect their lives.” Al Jazeera English beat entries from BBC News, Sky News, Lisboa TV and the Phoenix Satellite Television Company to take home the award.

Even a cursory glance at AJE’s accomplishments since its launch Al Jazeera English has proved it to be a unique news channel, winning a number of nominations in recognition of its professional quality and technical accomplishments. This also shows AJE’s potential to set new standards in the coming years:

Al Jazeera English's Far East Correspondent Hamish Macdonald won Royal Television Society''s Young Journalist of the Year Award for 2007 while it’s Africa correspondent Haru Mutasa was also among the three nominees.

Al Jazeera English was nominated for news channel of the year in its first year of broadcasting and was up against BBC News 24 and 2006’s winner Sky News. The awards were presented on 20 February 2008 at a ceremony at the London Hilton, hosted by ITV News at Ten’s Julie Etchingham. Over all, Aljazeera English won Royal Television Society Television Journalism Award nominations in the following categories: News - International Afghanistan: Taliban Embed - Al Jazeera English News Hour Al Jazeera English News Channel of the Year Al Jazeera English Young Journalist of the Year Hamish Macdonald - Al Jazeera English News Hour Al Jazeera English Haru Mutasa - Al Jazeera English News Hour Al Jazeera English.

At the 12th Asian Television 2007 Awards, it won the award for Best Single News/Report (Kylie Grey, Orange) Environment Special, and came runners-up for Best news programme Half Hour Bulletin-from Kula Lumpur.

Additionally, Al Jazeera English has won three awards at the BDA World Gold Awards. AJE was presented with three Bronze trophies at the 2007 PROMAX & BDA International Conference in New York 14 June 2007 in the categories of Art Direction & Design: Topical Campaign

An even-handed approach to judge a news channel is to look at its demerits and merits. Are there some commentators overwhelmed by an urge to become an executioner before even pretending to be judge and jury? In Aljazeera’s case, many critics with a disposition to dismiss everything new, haste to pass a judgement prior to looking at it sufficiently enough and objectively enough.
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