I remember the attacks on Al Jazeera, the Arabian Gulf-based TV network, back in 2001 because it broadcast the tapes of terrorist Osama bin Laden. The Bush administration was fighting a war, and Al Jazeera was seen as the enemy. It did give voice to an enemy, to be sure. But it was a news organization independent of the United States, and the Osama tapes were indisputably news.
I see The Times story that Al Jazeera is setting up a U.S. cable channel (Channel 125 on Comcast), and has hired away longtime KING-TV journalist Allen Schauffler to be its correspondent in Seattle, beginning Aug. 20.
Good for him and for them. And it’s good for America, too. The news media here is legally free, under the shield of the First Amendment, but it is not free of U.S. government influence, especially in wartime, and it is never free of innate American bias.
I’m not opposed to all American biases. I have plenty of my own. But it’s a good thing for intelligent people of any country to get some of their news and commentary from foreign sources. This comes naturally in a little country; educated people from the Netherlands or Singapore are almost all cosmopolitans. It’s much more difficult to be worldly if you are American living in America.
Of course Schauffler is no Arab, nor are most of the correspondents being hired around the United States, though I note that one has worked in Egypt and another in Ecuador. The channel being created is Al Jazeera America. Still, it is foreign-owned. I assume it will have programming from Al Jazeera English, the company’s network abroad. I hope it does. Seeing the world through foreign eyes is the value of BBC-TV, or The Economist, or watching Canadian TV. Still these sources are culturally close to America. Al Jazeera is based in Qatar, an Arab Muslim country.
Says Wikipedia, of the media company’s influence in the Arab world, “Al Jazeera introduced a level of freedom of speech on TV that was previously unheard of in many of these countries.” For this the channel or its correspondents has taken abuse from many governments, including Algeria (2004), Iraq (2013), Israel (2008, 2009), Palestinian Authority (2009), Egypt (2011) and China (2012), not to mention the destruction of Al Jazeera’s Kabul office by U.S. bombs in 2001.
Al Jazeera English also covers countries the U.S. media ignores. This week, for example, the Al Jazeera English web page had the story that the government of Uruguay was on the verge of legalizing marijuana.
When is the last time you saw a story from Uruguay?
Will Al Jazeera America succeed? I don’t know. But a foreign company is investing in the United States. That’s good for America. A successful company is putting millions of dollars into the media industry, which has suffered a dramatic shrinkage. As a member of that industry, I appreciate that.