Welcome Al-Jazeera America
At 3:00 PM yesterday, Al Gore's cable news flop Current TV became Al-Jazeera America.
Strangely, controversy erupted not over the idea of a Qatar-based news outlet broadcasting Muslim propaganda in America, but rather the scuttling of AJA by one of the big cable providers - AT&T U-verse - and the disappearance of AJA videos from YouTube.
The news channel -- which replaced Current TV at 3 p.m. Eastern time -- was expected to be carried by five of the country's 10 biggest television providers, but one of those, AT&T U-verse, dropped Current, and thus Al Jazeera, late Monday night.
That decision irritated some U-verse subscribers, who complained online about the company's move and which further limited Al Jazeera America's potential audience on Day 1.
On Tuesday evening, Al Jazeera said it was looking to the court system to resolve the contract dispute.
"Unfortunately AT&T's decision to unilaterally delete Al Jazeera America presented us with circumstances that were untenable -- an affiliate that has willfully and knowingly breached its contractual obligations," the broadcaster said in a statement. "We had no choice but to take this action and to enforce Al Jazeera's rights under its agreement with AT&T -- and to compel AT&T to do the right thing."
The complaint, filed in Delaware Chancery Court, accuses AT&T of wrongful termination and seeks restoration of the channel as well as damages.
AT&T said it had not yet seen the lawsuit. In a statement, it hinted that Current's transformation into Al Jazeera gave it an opening to drop the channel: "As a result of our inability to come to terms on a new agreement and due to certain breaches of the existing agreement, we have decided not to carry Current TV on U-verse."
People who were curious about the new channel but were not able to access it on TV found that they could not access it online, either. It is not being live-streamed on the Internet, much to the disappointment of a small but vocal group of longtime Al Jazeera viewers in the United States.
Those fans had grown accustomed to watching the pan-Arab broadcaster's existing English-language news channel, called Al Jazeera English, via the Internet. But on Monday, Al Jazeera English turned off its live stream for users in the United States. It also started to geo-block the news reports it posts on YouTube, so that instead of seeing the videos, American users saw a message that said, "The uploader has not made this video available in your country."
DirectTV has AJA buried in a block of other news channels like Bloomberg TV and LinkTV which carries an eclectic mix of news broadcasts from around the world. Link used to carry some Al-Jazeera broadcasting and watching it, you can't help but being impressed with the production values. Very slick.
Curiosity seekers will notice the pro-Palestinian tilt immediately. But some other subtle biases may take longer to recognize. Make no mistake; this is news presented from the point of view of the Arabs and as such, has some interesting interpretations of what's going on in the world.
I suppose it's valuable for Americans to be exposed to other points of view, but when reality is deliberately skewed to represent a particular ideology - propaganda - no good can come of it. Americans should watch all news, no matter where it's from, with an eye toward weeding out the biases of the broadcaster in order to arrive at something close to the truth. That includes CNN, Fox, and MSNBC as well.