FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Al Jazeera America: Goodbye to All That Jazz

This month something unusual happened on TV for many New Yorkers and other Americans – a news channel went blank. After four years, Al Jazeera America has ceased operations.

So an obscure foreign TV network goes dark. So what? The problem here is it leaves the US TV cable viewer almost without a serious international network. At all.  A news cruise around the dial of most cable operators will leave the viewers with a surprisingly small number of news channels.

One can watch cable giants such as CNN or Fox, MSNBC and the like, and be left with the impression that almost nothing happens beyond the borders of the United States.

They have occasional foreign coverage of big bleeding stories, anything about terrorism, and a small amount of international economic news. Cable news here is parochial at best.

Fox and CNN can hardly be called serious news, nor can they ever be accused of being anything except incredibly America centered and infested with two generally extreme and cartoonish points of view; a hard right fairytale on Mr. Murdoc’s side, and CNN’s ceaseless time filing Blitzeresque droning.

The picture is just as awful when it comes to broadcast; a sample of any of the large networks’ evening or morning fare gives the viewer a feeling they are watching TV which is pitched to the intellectual and educational level of a ten year old.

The decline of American  news bureaus outside the US over the past 25 years is a symptom and a cause of American TV news organizations’ ever decreasing geographical range and interest.

This lack of access, and perhaps the horrible possibility that Americans have been trained over the last generation to value a childish celebrity obsessed junk culture of morons, spelled lights out for Al Jazeera.

What’s left for cable subscribers is PBS and foreign news channels with an international bent like the BBC, and increasingly (though increasingly slowly) other Al Jazeera-like foreign government networks such as CCTV from China, NHK from Japan (often joked as being Japan’s BBC) in English, and the hilariously slanted Kremlin mouthpiece RTT.   RTT is what professors of journalism could show their students as an example of utterly biased “reportage”.

Al Jazeera America, a subsidiary of Al Jazeera Media (Qatar) bought Canadian Current TV and combined was the closest thing we had to a serious in depth American international news channel. They have 50 (but no doubt a decreasing number of) non US news bureaus, a large budget, and a wealth of international talent. Their award winning coverage has earned various accolades within their community and an impressive number of American, Australian, British presenters and writers have defected, if you will, to Al Jazeera. They attracted viewers and  journalists who care for more than “celebrities and shouting” – as Al Jazeera themselves put it in reference to US TV infotainment.

The closing of nearly all overseas news bureaus by American media companies is in part due to changed realities of journalism and modern mass communications, but this trend of reduced interest in overseas events  was established by the mid 1990s, well before the internet was a force in journalism.

The main reasons for Al Jazeera America’s death are firstly the dramatically lowered price of oil which effects all of the owner’s -the Qatari government – finances. There has been an across the board cut for everything the petrocarbon rich Gulf Arab country supports. Additionally, Al Jazeera used to be a very unpopular name in the United States with citizens as well as cable companies (in Time Warner’s case) hungry to use the bandwidth in favor of less controversial and intellectual stations. It required a grass roots effort in NYC to even have Time Warner Cable put it on its dial at all.

As a brand, the network has come a long way since before the Gulf War II when Donald Rumsfeld toyed with the idea of actually bombing their office in Afghanistan – mainly in response to their airing of Bin Laden’s tapes. But that is what it is remembered for in the American media sphere and it was often mocked by Fox as being a nest of Islamic terrorism and apologists.  Its general liberal bent has earned it further ire from the big cable and broadcasting establishment.

Being Qatari government funded they are not beholden to advertisers – as their unimpressive advertising suggested. Ads didn’t pay the bills and their advertisers were like those of late night infomericals;- cheap face creams, personal injury attorneys, and late night drunk dial impulse purchases.

Its not the end of the world – there’s still Al Jazera International in its various online forms, but not on our TV screens with American perspectives and talent, and not with a full network in New York with other US branches to provide its 24 hour a day news, analysis, documentaries and specials. Devotees can and will access it online, just as many Americans did before Al J America was on our TVs.

But it is sad fate for the hopeful standard bearer in grown up international news, and is symptomatic of a more isolated, parochial, dumbed down America.

More articles by:

David Anderson has a B.A. (Hon.) in Middle East politics from Melbourne University and did post graduate work at Georgetown University. He grew up in Australia and is a retired attorney in New York City.

Weekend Edition
July 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Atwood
Peace or Armageddon: Take Your Pick
Paul Street
No Liberal Rallies Yet for the Children of Yemen
Nick Pemberton
The Bipartisan War on Central and South American Women
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Are You Putin Me On?
Andrew Levine
Sovereignty: What Is It Good For? 
Brian Cloughley
The Trump/NATO Debacle and the Profit Motive
David Rosen
Trump’s Supreme Pick Escalates America’s War on Sex 
Melvin Goodman
Montenegro and the “Manchurian Candidate”
Salvador Rangel
“These Are Not Our Kids”: The Racial Capitalism of Caging Children at the Border
Matthew Stevenson
Going Home Again to Trump’s America
Louis Proyect
Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders and the Dilemmas of the Left
Patrick Cockburn
Iraqi Protests: “Bad Government, Bad Roads, Bad Weather, Bad People”
Robert Fantina
Has It Really Come to This?
Russell Mokhiber
Kristin Lawless on the Corporate Takeover of the American Kitchen
John W. Whitehead
It’s All Fake: Reality TV That Masquerades as American Politics
Patrick Bobilin
In Your Period Piece, I Would be the Help
Ramzy Baroud
The Massacre of Inn Din: How Rohingya Are Lynched and Held Responsible
Robert Fisk
How Weapons Made in Bosnia Fueled Syria’s Bleak Civil War
Gary Leupp
Trump’s Helsinki Press Conference and Public Disgrace
Josh Hoxie
Our Missing $10 Trillion
Martha Rosenberg
Pharma “Screening” Is a Ploy to Seize More Patients
Basav Sen
Brett Kavanaugh Would be a Disaster for the Climate
David Lau
The Origins of Local AFT 4400: a Profile of Julie Olsen Edwards
Rohullah Naderi
The Elusive Pursuit of Peace by Afghanistan
Binoy Kampmark
Shaking Establishments: The Ocasio-Cortez Effect
John Laforge
18 Protesters Cut Into German Air Base to Protest US Nuclear Weapons Deployment
Christopher Brauchli
Trump and the Swedish Question
Chia-Chia Wang
Local Police Shouldn’t Collaborate With ICE
Paul Lyons
YouTube’s Content ID – A Case Study
Jill Richardson
Soon You Won’t be Able to Use Food Stamps at Farmers’ Markets, But That’s Not the Half of It
Kevin MacKay
Climate Change is Proving Worse Than We Imagined, So Why Aren’t We Confronting its Root Cause?
Thomas Knapp
Elections: More than Half of Americans Believe Fairy Tales are Real
Ralph Nader
Warner Slack—Doctor for the People Forever
Lee Ballinger
Soccer, Baseball and Immigration
Louis Yako
Celebrating the Wounds of Exile with Poetry
Ron Jacobs
Working Class Fiction—Not Just Surplus Value
Perry Hoberman
You Can’t Vote Out Fascism… You Have to Drive It From Power!
Robert Koehler
Guns and Racism, on the Rocks
Nyla Ali Khan
Kashmir: Implementation with Integrity and Will to Resolve
Justin Anderson
Elon Musk vs. the Media
Graham Peebles
A Time of Hope for Ethiopia
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Homophobia in the Service of Anti-Trumpism is Still Homophobic (Even When it’s the New York Times)
Martin Billheimer
Childhood, Ferocious Sleep
David Yearsley
The Glories of the Grammophone
Tom Clark
Gameplanning the Patriotic Retributive Attack on Montenegro
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail