photo © 2011 Mike Licht | more info (via: Wylio)While I'm on this whole Egypt obsession, let me bring up another new obsession of mine - Al Jazeera English. Yes, I've known about it before - they've actually been active in the indie doc space for awhile, aside from the other reasons to know about them - but I've never watched them as much as I have this past week. And....they're good. I want them on my cable line-up now.
In fact, AJE has not just had great coverage, it's been just about the only coverage you can find that is consistent, on the ground and not moderated by a bunch of doughy white people sitting in America. Jeesh. (and I'm allowed to say that because I am one). Seriously, couldn't any of the networks or news channels have found a few more Egyptian experts. You know, there's a rumor that some of them speak English and have degrees and what not. Look, we're not talking about some out of the way place that hasn't been our ally for like decades with just a few people running around up in arms. 80+ Million people are protesting in a modern country that has loads of good journalists, and we can only find a handful to put on the air.....shameful.
But not as embarrassing as having to watch CNN, Fox and MSNBC in comparison to the professionalism of AJE. I know that everyone already knows just how bad cable news is, but this week really put some extra perspective on the situation. I turn on AJE - live coverage of the most important news event of the week, if not the decade, and with great commentary and coverage. Heck, they even cut off important topics to cover....more important topics happening elsewhere in Cairo or some other Egyptian location, as opposed to some inane topic like Charlie Sheen doing more blow on some hooker's back. They ask the interviewees tough questions and act something like reporters.
I turn on CNN, and I got 5 minutes of former US Ambassadors sitting on the ground here pontificating about things they don't understand and an interview with an American who was so relieved to get out of the country. Then, a big pitch for me to vote on what story makes the news. Wow, CNN is with it man, they crowd-source the news? Who knew? And my story options....
1. Babies addicted to opium
2. Man sleeps with tiger
3. Nude woman protesters in the Ukraine.
I'm not making this up. They even tossed to the commercial with a quick set of images of those nude women protesters just in case I wasn't sure what to vote for. I forgot all about Cairo. Cured.
I don't generally watch any of our news networks unless there is a major global event. Even then, I usually switch over to the BBC or Guardian online for a better take on affairs. The important thing is, however, if I wanted to watch them, I could. Al Jazeera English....nope. I haven't researched this, but my understanding is there's been a lot of politics behind keeping them off most cable networks. While it has great carriage everywhere else, here in the good ol' democratic US of A it is limited pretty much to one satellite network. This is ridiculous and I hope they make progress in getting more carriage now that millions of Americans have been watching them online during these events. As I was writing this, I couldn't help thinking how much this state of affairs underlines the importance of net neutrality. I could write something pithy about it, but I found this on Wendy Seltzer's blog today and think she says it best:
"Moreover, the situation illustrates the value of open Internet here at home. Al Jazeera English, the television broadcaster giving the most thorough coverage of the Egyptian events — despite having its Cairo bureau closed and six of its journalists jailed — is not available through most US cable providers. Ryan Grim on Huffington Post calls this a “blackout”, but thanks to the Internet, that need not be a barrier. I’m watching Al Jazeera English on my computer, through pipes that can carry video, audio, and text of my choice. (So it’s disturbing to see Chris Sacca tweet that he “worked at an Akamai competitor when Al-Jazeera sought CDN [content delivery network: local caching that can help improve network delliery] help in 2002. US Gov made clear to us that we would suffer.” Cable’s limited-purpose pipe, where subscribers get only bundles chosen from among the channels their providers offer, seems an anachronism in the Internet age. We may still want to watch video (and not only create it ourselves), but we need Net neutrality’s assurance that we can get it from any source: peer, professional, or dissident."
Now, I have to note that many people complain about their anti-Israel bias. This is likely true and shameful, but to be expected given their base. I haven't witnessed this during my watching, but I believe this could happen. That said, it shouldn't stop our ability to watch it in the US. I've heard lots of horrible things, and seen lots of bias, on our existing channels, so we shouldn't stop AJE just because of this. The NYT mentions this in an article which came out today. I wrote this piece yesterday, but think the article is a good read if you want to contemplate what we do and don't allow on US television a bit more.
Watch the protests live on Al Jazeera English here.