Even though Al Jazeera is considered “controversial”, competitors “fear its reputation for news excellence”.
By Danny Schechter
Why does our media system attract so many uninformed and unbrave people who are locked into such predictable and parochial attitudes? Do they have an agenda that the public is unaware of?
Take Time Warner. Remember how it initially would not run the then new red white and blue Fox News on its platform in New York City, forcing it to cough up a high “per-subscriber fee” to get on the air? That was a clear commercial dispute with a bit of extortion thrown in, an attempt to protect their news channel, CNN, from being challenged.
Now that Al Jazeera has bought Current TV, a channel shown on Time Warner cable, the Time Warner megacorp became the first system operator out of the box to say it would not carry the new news channel that the Qatar-based network wants to launch in America, in much the same way that BBC set up BBC America to offer its programming to US viewers.
Even as Time Warner carries Russia Today, CCTV out of China and other foreign-owned channels, it is excluding this channel before they even know what it will offer. This could be a ploy to jack up licence fees – a la Fox News – but there is probably more to it.
In reporting on the deal: Fox first focused on how much money - $100 million - it claims that Al Gore, an early investor in Current, will make for his 20 percent stake in the network. Bashing Democrats is always Fox’s first priority (it now turns out that Glenn Beck wanted to buy Current, but Gore went with Al Jazeera).
Fox does not report on rumours that its owner Rupert Murdoch and his Saudi partner Prince Walid visited Al Jazeera and reportedly were interested in buying the channel, or that Al Jazeera frequently exposed bogus pro-US military propaganda that Fox carried as news during the Iraq War.
Aversion to the truth
You will recall that an Al Jazeera reporter was killed by the US military in Baghdad and their Kabul office was bombed, while one cameraman was held for years in Guantanamo on charges that were never proven. You may remember that George Bush joked about bombing Al Jazeera’s headquarters in Doha, a threat that was idiotic since Qatar allowed the Pentagon to base troops and run its Coalition Media Centre there (I covered this story in my filmWMD Weapons of Mass Deception and two books, Embedded and When News Lies, 2006).
A major supplier of natural gas to the US, Qatar has moved even closer to the US and was allied with Washington in the war in Libya, and now on Syria, that Al Jazeera seems to be covering sympathetically.
But Fox News has a habit of not letting facts get in the way of its coverage, reporting that many Americans “feel” it’s a terrorist network perhaps because Al Jazeera to them, idiotically, sounds like al-Qaeda (and because this “feeling” is always being reinforced by bombastic pundits who are scoring political points, not making factual statements). There is no evidence to support this claim.
Al Jazeera has been criticised for having a pro-Islamist bent, and accused of working with members of al-Qaeda. One of its journalists was arrested in Israel in 2011 on suspicion of being an agent of the Palestinian group Hamas.
(That was Samer Allawi, their Kabul bureau chief, who was later released, a fact Fox ignores when Israeli suspicions proved groundless.)
Fox’s “report” goes on:
Dave Marash, a former “Nightline” reporter who worked for Al Jazeera in Washington, said he left the network in 2008 in part because he sensed an anti-American bias there.
As it turns out, I spoke with Marash (who I worked alongside at ABC News) about why he left and he said it had more to do with his wanting to report with his wife from the field and not be stuck in an anchor chair.
Last year, the media website Newser reported that Marash still respects Al Jazeera, the opposite of what the Fox article insinuates.
He is quoted as saying:
The product is too good, too significant, to not have a market in the US, given the complete abdication of American networks and cable channels from actually covering international news.
… The current situation is “tragic”, in his view. Itplays into the ignorance of American viewers, most of whom are clueless as to what the world thinks and why. It’s very harmful to America’s effectiveness and stature in the world.
So once again, Fox’s smears and aversion to the truth misrepresents the situation. So, what is behind the knee-jerk reaction by Time Warner?
Can it have to do with the business Time Warner does with Israel, a country that, incidentally, allows reporters from Al Jazeera to work there and broadcast their reports?
When it owned AOL, Time Warner was active in an Israeli business.
The Jerusalem Post reported:
Three US companies that invest in Israel – AOL Time Warner, IBM and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation – were lauded at the America-Israel Friendship League’s Partners for Democracy Awards dinner.
Competitive business environment
So, yes, Time Warner has been very friendly to Israel with top executives aligned with Israeli charities and fundraisers, and some correspondents accused of bias. CNN’s Wolf Blitzer of the Situation Room once ran the Israeli lobby group AIPAC, but the charges that CNN has slanted the news is disputed and has become part of the larger debate about the pro-Israel orientation of almost all US TV outlets. Murdoch even blasted CNN for anti-Israel bias.
Yet, there is a perception issue that Time Warner executives are very sensitive to in a competitive business environment and polarised political culture. They are very aware that Al Jazeera is considered “controversial” even as competitors fear its reputation for news excellence.
They don’t necessarily want to show up the superficiality of most international news coverage in the US and prefer to try to stop the channel from gaining a foothold here, as it has in many countries.
They also worry that some fanatic pro-Israel group might target them for carrying the channel. New York is full of such haters as we have seen in many recent incidents.
Yet, ironically, right now, Al Jazeera is available on one Time Warner cable channel in New York even as the company postures about rejecting any new channel.
This is one more battle over media diversity in a culture where media monopolies dominate and try to assure that the public is only being exposed to the “official story” blessed by the Washington consensus, especially on international stories where being “patriotically correct” seems a top media priority, if only to assuage political gatekeepers in both parties.
Will this issue grow in visibility with media activists challenging Time Warner’s clear rejection of freedom for news they want to limit?
At least one media analyst is speaking up, reports the Huffington Post:
“Time-Warner cable shows abject political and journalistic cowardice by dropping Current because of Al Jazeera deal,” tweeted Dan Gilmor, a technology writer and founding director of the Knight Centre for Digital Media Entrepreneurship at Arizona State University.
Will Al Gore speak on this issue or just take the money and run? As the Obama administration moves towards further loosening media rules, will any champions of press freedom emerge to speak out against this dangerous precedent in contemporary pre-emptive censorship, limiting what the American public can and can’t see?
News Dissector Danny Schechter blogs at newsdissector.net. His most recent books are Blogothon and Occupy: Dissecting Occupy Wall Street. He hosts a radio show on ProgressiveRadioNetwork (PRN.fm). Comments to [email protected]