Monday, January 31, 2011

"Corporate Censorship" or Free Choice?

A HuffPo headline screams: "Al Jazeera English Blacked Out Across Most of US!"

Holy cyberwar, we thought as we clicked the link. Has some Arab despot actually blocked all transmissions to the United States, the way Mubarak shut down Egypt's internal communications the other day? Are we that vulnerable?

In fact, however, the HuffPo article is a bit of nasal whining. Seems that very few cable companies carry AJE, the Qatar-funded news network. Either they don't think there is a market or, more to the point, they are afraid of a backlash from Islamophobes or the plain old xenophobes whose numbers are surprisingly high in nation where almost everybody came from somewhere else.

Wah, wah, wah, says the Po. This corporate censorship is depriving Americans of solid journalism, both on Middle Eastern and Latin American topics. (And which is apparently feared by the Middle Eastern tyrants themselves). Canadians get to see it, not because they demanded it from the providers, but because they petitioned the government to force cable providers to carry it. And look -- the couchbound masses didn't rise up from their narcotized slumber, so it must be safe for corporate kingpins!

Frankly, we don't know a thing about Al Jazeera English. It might offer the best journalism since Cronkite, or it might be a peanut-butter sandwich. It isn't carried on Romanian cable, either, although we do enjoy the charms of France24, Russia Today and something from China that is completely unwatchable. So nothing we say next should be taken as either a recommendation or a slam.

Now, that said: Unless we have missed something, businesses are supposed to make business decisions. That's why they're called "businesses," not "charities," or "public agencies." So cable providers get to decide which channels they'll broadcast. Yes, the government has a right to place some public-service obligations on the broadcasting industry -- equal time, limiting what products and services can be advertised, requiring them to carry public-access TV even though it is wretched and nobody watches except the SNL writers looking for parody material.

But come on. If people want AJE, let them ask for it.

In which spirit, we at the Egg are hereby asking for it. As it happens, we'd like to watch AJE, and would happily choose a cable provider who offered it.

While we're at it, here are some other requests for the cable bigwigs:

1. No more sports. At least not on basic cable. Licensing makes that stuff incredibly expensive, and drives up our bill. We don't care which team wins the big playoffs, and we're tired of footing the bill for those that do.

2. Bring back Nick at Night. The old Nick at Night -- Bewitched, Father Knows Best, My Little Margie. Because, guess what, Fresh Prince isn't classic TV.

3. Move Fringe back to its old slot. That show is great, and Fox switched it to the Friday Time-Slot of Doom. Technically, this has nothing to do with cable TV, since Fox actually uses airwaves. But come on, guys, you've gotta have some pull.

4. Where's the Comic Book Network? Seriously. Between the seventeen Superman-related series, a million cartoons, and the almost-success of Heroes, The Cape and No Ordinary Family, there's plenty of stuff out there. No, it isn't good enough for the Tiffany Network -- but you're cable. Come on, people, you devote whole channels to the weather.

5. More religion. Why isn't there a network for Lutherans? Specifically, for high-church Lutherans living in central Europe? Especially those under, say, 5'4"? And while we're on the subject, do you have a minute to hear our pitch?

Anyway, we're off topic yet again. Here's the point: Al Jazeera English has quickly developed a reputation for solid reporting, and we'd like to see if the rep is deserved. We don't think the government has any business forcing broadcasters to show it, but we do think consumers should start asking.

And either way, calling the companies' lack of interest a "blackout" is like saying consumers "boycotted" Betamax.


stynxno said...

You can watch AJE's live stream at

I've only been paying attention to it during the Egypt protests. Their coverage seems to be pretty good. Also, while I was watching, Little Egypt in Astoria was name dropped. Weird to have my neighborhood mentioned on Al Jazeera.

Father Anonymous said...

Yeah, I saw that on your blog post the other day. I'm actually very interested in the response to these events from Astoria.

Pastor Joelle said...

Add to the demands complete coverage of ALL major figure skating competitions on the networks(including compulsories and maybe even some practices) and I'll sign on.