THE Dean of Columbia’s School of Journalism recently bemoaned the lack of public broadcasting in the United States, and went on to argue that America needed its own version of the BBC. I’m sure that he did not intend to upset the venerable PBS when he made those comments, but you get his drift. And there is unintended irony there too; the BBC finds itself under some threat on its home turf, largely at the hands of the inimitable Rupert Murdoch and crew – although the idea that Sky TV can somehow even begin to carry the range and breadth of BBC coverage, would be laughable if it weren’t taken so seriously by a Government that looks to be just as craven towards News Corporation as, well, the last Government.
Is the United States served well by its broadcast media? Well, that’s really a question for Americans. But what struck me when I lived and worked in New York, as Aljazeera’s first United Nations Correspondent was the obvious hunger for international news, and especially for international news that at least tried to be unbiased. That ingredient is sadly in very short supply. In the time since, the situation has if anything got worse. The management of many of the big US broadcasters would prefer to pay unfeasibly large sums to anchors and presenters, even if that means one of the few remaining overseas bureaux have to be cut.
Ironically given all of the controversy surrounding the launch of Aljazeera, and I have already declared my interest here, this English offspring of the much respected Arabic parentage, has shown how it is possible to report in a relatively unbiased fashion, and from all corners of the globe. But it has been an ongoing battle to achieve carriage in the United States, although you may now be able to view Aljazeera north of the border in Canada, at the last count only the good burghers of Washington DC, Toledo and Burlington, Vermont could get access.
I’m not as plugged in as I used to be with my old company, so I don’t really know what other progress is being made, but for Americans who would like to view Aljazeera, you can get it online here http://english.aljazeera.net/
In London, Aljazeera will shortly be re-launched nationally on ‘free view’, and it is already possible to watch the channel if you have a satellite dish. That said, Aljazeera have never been to hot on advertising their wares, rather hoping that the strength of the product will do the job itself.
In New York, one of our offices was located in the Reuters Building in Times Square, and I remember arguing that the company should rent the large screen for a day or two, and run the best of the Aljazeera coverage with the strap-line “The rest of the World can see us, why can’t you?”
That remains a very good question for many Americans who would like to see Aljazeera for themselves – but for the moment at least it is shortly going to be a whole lot easier for the Brits to watch.