Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Time Warner And Media Fascism In America


Yesterday, on my travel blog, I documented how Emirates, which hypes itself as a first-rate international airline, unceremoniously dumped all its L.A.-bound business class passengers flying from Cochin in Dubai so the airline could sell their seats to other customers. I was one of those travelers and I was forced to spend 24 unscheduled hours in Dubai. Aside from visiting the world's biggest-- and most garish-- shopping mall, I spent much of my time watching Al-Jazeera. I don't get the station in L.A. but I do watch it online and find it far more informative and in-depth than CNN International and usually better than the BBC. 

While I was away, Ken did an update about how Al-Jazeera is buying Al Gore's Current TV, explaining how the purchase is meant to "provide the pan-Arab news giant with something it has sought for years: a pathway into American living rooms." What Ken didn't get into is how Time Warner immediately announced they are kicking Current TV off their cable systems. Globalvision's Danny Schecter, a founder of, explained what this means and why Americans should be paying attention. "Why," asks Schecter, "does our media system attract so many uninformed and unbrave people who are locked into such predictable and parochial attitudes? Do they have an agenda that the public is unaware of?"
Take Time Warner. Remember how it initially would not run the then new red white and blue Fox News on its platform in New York City, forcing it to cough up a high "per-subscriber fee" to get on the air? That was a clear commercial dispute with a bit of extortion thrown in, an attempt to protect their news channel, CNN, from being challenged.

Now that Al Jazeera has bought Current TV, a channel shown on Time Warner cable, the Time Warner megacorp became the first system operator out of the box to say it would not carry the new news channel that the Qatar-based network wants to launch in America, in much the same way that BBC set up BBC America to offer its programming to US viewers.

Even as Time Warner carries Russia Today, CCTV out of China and other foreign-owned channels, it is excluding this channel before they even know what it will offer. This could be a ploy to jack up licence fees-- a la Fox News-- but there is probably more to it.

In reporting on the deal: Fox first focused on how much money-- $100 million-- it claims that Al Gore, an early investor in Current, will make for his 20 percent stake in the network. Bashing Democrats is always Fox's first priority (it now turns out that Glenn Beck wanted to buy Current, but Gore went with Al Jazeera).

Fox does not report on rumours that its owner Rupert Murdoch and his Saudi partner Prince Walid visited Al Jazeera and reportedly were interested in buying the channel, or that Al Jazeera frequently exposed bogus pro-US military propaganda that Fox carried as news during the Iraq War.

You will recall that an Al Jazeera reporter was killed by the US military in Baghdad and their Kabul office was bombed, while one cameraman was held for years in Guantanamo on charges that were never proven. You may remember that George Bush joked about bombing Al Jazeera's headquarters in Doha, a threat that was idiotic since Qatar allowed the Pentagon to base troops and run its Coalition Media Centre there (I covered this story in my film WMD Weapons of Mass Deception and two books, Embedded and When News Lies, 2006).

A major supplier of natural gas to the US, Qatar has moved even closer to the US and was allied with Washington in the war in Libya, and now on Syria, that Al Jazeera seems to be covering sympathetically.

But Fox News has a habit of not letting facts get in the way of its coverage, reporting that many Americans "feel" it's a terrorist network perhaps because Al Jazeera to them, idiotically, sounds like al-Qaeda (and because this "feeling" is always being reinforced by bombastic pundits who are scoring political points, not making factual statements). There is no evidence to support this claim.

Fox reports:
Al Jazeera has been criticised for having a pro-Islamist bent, and accused of working with members of al-Qaeda. One of its journalists was arrested in Israel in 2011 on suspicion of being an agent of the Palestinian group Hamas.
(That was Samer Allawi, their Kabul bureau chief, who was later released, a fact Fox ignores when Israeli suspicions proved groundless.)

Fox's "report" goes on: 
Dave Marash, a former Nightline reporter who worked for Al Jazeera in Washington, said he left the network in 2008 in part because he sensed an anti-American bias there.
As it turns out, I spoke with Marash (who I worked alongside at ABC News) about why he left and he said it had more to do with his wanting to report with his wife from the field and not be stuck in an anchor chair.

Last year, the media website Newser reported that Marash still respects Al Jazeera, the opposite of what the Fox article insinuates.

He is quoted as saying:
The product is too good, too significant, to not have a market in the US, given the complete abdication of American networks and cable channels from actually covering international news.

... The current situation is "tragic", in his view. It plays into the ignorance of American viewers, most of whom are clueless as to what the world thinks and why. It's very harmful to America's effectiveness and stature in the world.
So once again, Fox's smears and aversion to the truth misrepresents the situation. So, what is behind the knee-jerk reaction by Time Warner?

Can it have to do with the business Time Warner does with Israel, a country that, incidentally, allows reporters from Al Jazeera to work there and broadcast their reports?

When it owned AOL, Time Warner was active in an Israeli business.

The Jerusalem Post reported: 
Three US companies that invest in Israel-- AOL Time Warner, IBM and Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation-- were lauded at the America-Israel Friendship League's Partners for Democracy Awards dinner.
So, yes, Time Warner has been very friendly to Israel with top executives aligned with Israeli charities and fundraisers, and some correspondents accused of bias. CNN's Wolf Blitzer of the Situation Room once ran the Israeli lobby group AIPAC, but the charges that CNN has slanted the news is disputed and has become part of the larger debate about the pro-Israel orientation of almost all US TV outlets. Murdoch even blasted CNN for anti-Israel bias.
Schecter's co-founder of,Rory O'Connor, also took a shot at explaining the TimeWarner situation in a post he did, Welcome to America, Al Jazeera. Like me, O'Connor finds Al Jazeera "one of the best cable news networks in the world: and points out that it "has always had a tough time in the US."
It's long been derided by conservatives here as a "terror network" and propaganda organ. It's been widely denounced by publicity-seeking politicians for airing messages from al-Qaeda. Its reporters have been imprisoned in the Guantanamo gulag for years before being released after having never been tried or convicted of any terrorist ties. Others have been targeted by US forces in both Afghanistan and Iraq, shot at, had missiles fired at them, and even killed.

As a result-- despite massive lobbying and advertising campaigns-- most major cable and satellite television network in the US have refused to offer Al Jazeera's English-language service to their audiences ever since its inception six years ago. Instead, it's clearly been blacklisted and made almost impossible to find on America's airwaves.

Now, in the most American of solutions, the pan-Arab news leader has gone ahead and simply bought its seat at the media table, with the purchase of Current TV, a low-rated cable channel founded by former US Vice-President Al Gore and his partners seven years ago. For the relatively small sum of $500 million, it has just bought entree into at least 40 million cable-ready living rooms all across the US.

Welcome to America, Al Jazeera!

Sounds good, right? And it is, both for American audiences, starved for real news about what's going on in the world around them but plagued instead with a surfeit of gossip, celebrity doings and opinionated bloviators from both the right and left on such putative cable "news" channels such as Fox and MSNBC, and for Al Jazeera itself, which will only extend its global influence by finally gaining a foothold in two crucial American marketplaces-- that of commerce, of course, but also that of ideas. 

...[T]he outlook is not entirely rosy for Al Jazeera's entry into America. For one thing, the powerful Time-Warner cable system, America's second largest cable company with 12 million subscribers in New York, the largest media market in the US, used the occasion of the sale to drop its carriage of Current. That means AJA is not yet guaranteed access to Time-Warner's subscribers, unlike those of such other major distributors as Dish, DirecTV, Comcast, Verizon and AT&T, which did consent to the acquisition.

Although Time Warner executives said the channel wasn't removed for political reasons, and that their decision had more to do with Current's low ratings, many were quick to see a conspiracy and politics at play, and a firestorm of protest rapidly spread through social media. Late on January 3, as it continued, Time Warner Cable issued a statement that opened the door to carrying Al Jazeera America in the future. "We are keeping an open mind, and as the service develops, we will evaluate whether it makes sense, for our customers, to launch the network," the statement read.
Sounds like the smooth lies Air Emirates told me when they chiseled me out of my flight back to Los Angeles Saturday. Sleazy Arabs always tell you what you want to hear to shut you up and get you out of their hair-- just like sleazy Time Warner executives. Is that fair for me to say? Sure, I used to be a divisional president at Time Warner, I know exactly how they operate.


I find this development quite interesting and fairly unsurprising. When I wrote the post Howie refers to about the Current sale to Al Jazeera, I thought about this possibility a lot. Apparently Al Jazeera's interest in the deal was based on the assumption that buying Current would give it access to all those cable systems, but what made the Al Jazeera people assume that all, or any, of those cable systems would carry their new channel? We know how precious even crappy cable slots have become, and we get frequent glimmerings of the shenanigans involved in procuring them.

I figured we would find out eventually how many of those cable slots Al Jazeera would hold onto. I just didn't expect "eventually" to be this quick.

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At 1:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I live near Chicago and one of our local public television stations carries a daily 30-minute broadcast by Al Jazeera. I now have the app on my smart phone. If you actually want to know what is happening outside of the beltway or the Kardashian home, it's the best newscast on TV.

Also, thank you for the Toi Hutchinson shout out. She is the best.


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