As the crisis in Egypt continues to escalate, The Huffington Post has spearheaded a campaign to pressure American cable companies into carrying Al Jazeera English. On Monday, they provided a forum for the Qatari government-owned network’s director general, Wadah Khanfar, to make his case to an American audience.
Khanfar begins his appeal by highlighting the importance of the events taking place in Egypt, events which HuffPo insists are to Al Jazeera “what the Gulf War was to CNN.” He then points to Egyptian censorship of Al Jazeera in a bid to gain sympathy and portray his organization as a hard news network speaking truth to power.
Elsewhere, in the United States, Al Jazeera faces a different kind of blackout, based largely on misinformed views about our content and journalism. Some of the largest American cable and satellite providers have instituted corporate obstacles against Al Jazeera English. We are on the air and on the major cable system in the nation’s capital, and some of America’s leading policymakers in Washington, D.C., have told me that Al-Jazeera English is their channel of choice for understanding global issues. But we are not available in the majority of the 50 states for much of the general public.
We believe all Americans, not just those in senior governmental positions, could benefit from having the option to watch Al-Jazeera English — or not to watch us — on their television screens.
Whether American cable companies choose to include Al Jazeera English in their channel lineup is entirely up to them. However, it is worth highlighting a couple of reasons why they might sensibly choose not to.
… the Arab media remain inherently political and monolithic. They are operated by political, religious, and ethnic forces and factions, which use them to promote their own policies and interests. Furthermore, nearly all these media — whether government- or opposition-affiliated — are controlled by local Arab regimes and are used to bolster their power and ensure their survival.
… Al-Jazeera is often touted as “the Arab BBC” — the first truly independent, Western-style news network in the Arab world…
But while Al-Jazeera is allowed to flirt with some provocative issues and to censure other Arab countries, it is not free to criticize its owners — that is, the Qatari royal family and the Qatari government…
[Al-Jazeera is] political — not commercial — … designed to serve [its] sponsors’ interests.
While it is certainly understandable why American cable companies would shy away from state-run propaganda masked as a legitimate news network, there is a far more compelling reason to reject Al Jazeera.
An increasingly influential force in Arab media are the Islamist journalists, who dominate many print and broadcast outlets. Al-Jazeera, for instance, is a mouthpiece for Islamists, who hold many key positions in the station as editors, reporters, and anchors. Their presence explains the prominence given to Islamic causes, leaders, and organizations, and to the fact that Hamas and Islamic Jihad, for example, get more air time for their statements than do Mahmoud Abbas or other Palestinian Authority officials. The Islamist presence is also responsible for the Arab media’s tolerant attitude toward Islamist governments and groups such as Islamic Jihad, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, or the Taliban, whose tactics and atrocities are rarely criticized on the air.
Anti-American rhetoric is almost universal in Arab news coverage — not only in countries like Syria, which are openly hostile to the U.S., but also in nations theoretically allied with America, such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia. The Arab regimes of the Middle East use the media to disseminate anti-American rhetoric designed to deflect potential public criticism of their own failures. They commonly blame the residue of “colonialism” or the “imperialist West” for the problems of Arab society.
Is there any wonder why American cable companies have refused to carry Al Jazeera? It’s bad enough sorting through anti-American rhetoric packaged as “news” on domestic cable networks. Having to surf past foreign Islamist propaganda would be absolutely nauseating.
Of course, Khanfar and HuffPo argue that consumers can choose whether or not to watch Al Jazeera.
… Even those with access can choose to change the channel and watch something else — Fox News or Desperate Housewives. But the last month has shown us something that America can no longer ignore: millions of Americans want to watch our channel and better understand our region, and too many are deprived that opportunity.
While it is true consumers have a right to choose what to watch, content providers have a corresponding right to choose what to broadcast. It would be irresponsible to choose to carry a network known to promote the Islamist ideology which encourages jihad against America and her allies, not least the destruction of Israel.