Like many Americans, I suffered for weeks following election night 2000. Throughout the recount, I watched the news with an unflinching devotion; the major networks – NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX, CNN – pulled on my heartstrings with reports of errors concerning exit polls, butterfly ballots, punch cards, old people, etc.  I feared not only for the future of our political system, but also for my health, which had been ravaged by insomnia, anxiety and the wound in my back where American democracy had stabbed me with an ice pick. 

All these symptoms pointed to one diagnosis: I had become a news junkie. I thought only of politics, and the news dictated my every move; I woke to news radio; I worked with CNN/ BBC/ C-SPAN blaring in the background; I read newspapers with meals, and I talked electoral politics with anyone who was kind enough to indulge me.

Some eight years later, I’m disappointed to report that I have not overcome my addiction. In fact, I’m much worse off; with the advent web 2.0 and web TV, it’s easier than ever to get a quick fix. Like any junkie, I’m always game for new suppliers entering the market. Recently, I was introduced to a foreign dealer, who is relatively new to the English-language market, but offers an unparalleled product, i.e. Al Jazeera English (AJE).

The channel stays true to its motto, “the opinion and the other opinion.” For those who are new to viewing (or using) foreign news, I offer a warning; even if you put your political beliefs aside, this is potent stuff:

###Al Jazeera, which means “the Peninsula” in Arabic, seeks “to be the English-language channel of reference for Middle Eastern events, balancing the current typical information flow by reporting from the developing world back to the West and from the southern to the northern hemisphere. The channel gives voice to untold stories, promotes debate, and challenges established perceptions.” 

With headquarters in Doha, the channel has broadcast centers in Kuala Lumpur, London, Washington DC and is distributed to more than 100 million people worldwide. However, if you live in the United States, AJE is most likely not offered on your cable plan.

As discussed in a recent a New York Times article, “the reputation of its Arabic sibling as the preferred outlet for videos from Osama bin Laden has made the English-language version too hot to handle for some cable operators. A lack of space on crowded cable systems has also made it difficult for operators to offer Al Jazeera English.”

Indeed, Al Jazeera has encountered its fair share of disputes with the U.S.  During the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the U.S. bombed Al Jazeera’s bureau in Kabul (an unfortunate accident, claimed American officials). Two years later, the channel’s Baghdad office was hit during a U.S. missile strike (again, a tragic mistake). In 2004, the British press reported that President George W. Bush expressed his intention to bomb Al Jazeera in a memo addressed to Prime Minister Tony Blair (clearly, officials said, Bush was joking). And recently in May 2008, Sami Al-Hajj, a cameraman for Al-Jazeera, was released from Guantanamo, where he had been held as an enemy combatant since 2001 (again, just a mix-up).

While AJE struggles for acceptance among American cable providers, it currently offers a huge portion of its material on YouTube. The channel has been viewed over a million times and offers its web audience over 40 different programs, ranging from political reporting to sports coverage:

AJE provides viewers with a combination of high-quality journalism and an unfamiliar perspective. Even as a long-time news junkie, I still found a large portion of AJE’s content to be disturbing and incendiary. It’s power to evoke discussion and controversy is married to its success as an up-and-coming news provider.

This junkie recommends AJE for the experienced user, or those who are looking for a shocking and demanding challenge.

 

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