Recently, somewhat inexplicably, the Al Jazeera English news channel disappeared or was dropped by Cable Bahamas Limited even as the Doha (Qatar) based network is dramatically increasing its presence in the US.
It is entirely possible that this columnist missed public announcements by Cable Bahamas regarding the sudden disappearance of Al Jazeera. Perhaps there was a timely notification on its website or through a press release or a scroll on channel 419 where the news channel once appeared?
It is unclear the reasons for the blackout of this major news organization that continues to expand its global reach. Some have been told that there are technical problems. Others have been informed that the channel may reappear depending on the number of people interested in its return.
How curious the conflicting explanations. The company’s public relations shop may wish to get everyone reading from the same talking points.
Here’s a boast from the company’s website:
“Cable Bahamas operates one of the most technologically advanced Cable TV systems in the world. Through our extensive use of fibre-optics, our system's flexibility and potential for growth is virtually unlimited.”
The company has rolled out a slick well-produced ad touting its commitment to excellence and quality service. Viewers sincerely wish that this extends also to the quality of programming it offers, including the excellent news programs and documentaries featured on Al Jazeera.
Cable Bahamas further touts:
“In everything we do, we believe in empowering social and economic growth, by delivering remarkable customer experiences, and developing products and services that enable a revolutionary shift in the way we learn, the way we communicate and in the way we are entertained.”
One of the “remarkable customer experiences” that has revolutionized the quality of news programs on cable and enhanced the ability of Bahamians and residents to learn about current events and world history was the inclusion of Al Jazeera in the cable offerings.
Most financial and international business centers are tuning into Al Jazeera, news from which may factor into business decisions from oil and commodity prices to financial services.
International business people, whether domiciled abroad or travelling for business, and high-end tourists, are increasingly expecting to find Al Jazeera, no matter where they are. Such visitors to The Bahamas today will be out of luck if they watch Cable Bahamas.
Al Jazeera is on par with the BBC and both are far superior to the often vacuous opinion and entertainment shows offered by US cable news stations. Both are critical counterweights to the ingrained bias of US cable news.
In the Bahamas we became heavily dependent on the American broadcast media for shaping our world-view, with often shallow and uncritical reporting on international events spurred mostly by the latest crisis, but mostly with news of events in the US, especially the latest celebrity scandals or sensational crimes which are milked ad nauseum.
Reporting on Africa, Latin America, Asia and the Middle East was often skewed through the quite narrow lens of US interests, and rarely seen through the broader history of those regions and peoples.
To view the conflict between Palestine and Israel solely through the eyes of the major US news media companies would be akin to trying to understand colonialism solely through the eyes of the colonial powers.
Today, Al Jazeera and the BBC regularly offer more in-depth reporting on the US than CNN, Fox News and MSNBC. In terms of international reporting, the Qatari and British companies are far superior to the three US laggards.
With the US set to respond to the Syrian government’s alleged use of chemical weapons, Al Jazeera provides a more comprehensive view of unfolding events, both in terms of the depth of reporting and the varied perspectives on these events.
Even as Al Jazeera is expanding its global reach, many US news outlets, both print and broadcast, are contracting. Al Jazeera’s expansion in the US will be fascinating to watch as it promises to offer news-rich content, few opinion shows, and in-depth coverage of US affairs. The media house has come a long way. So has the US.
Initially many Americans were deeply sceptical about a new television service based in Qatar, especially given the antipathy to Muslims after September 11, 2001.
During the long-running Afghanistan and Iraq wars President George W. Bush wanted to bomb the headquarters of Al Jazeera.
But the service, with fine journalists of many different nationalities, now rivals that of the BBC offering top-notch professional coverage around the world. Sir David Frost, who recently passed away, was an early fan of Al Jazeera where he hosted a program.
Various reports have noted that the White House and the US State Department relied heavily on Al Jazeera for its Middle East reporting.
Using multiple and varied sources for news for information gathering, critical analysis and decision making is as important in the US as it is here at home. Which is why much of our domestic press often seems uninformed, relying mostly on US cable news for information.
Further, our democracy and culture of education are that much more enhanced when public officials, journalists, commentators, educators and students have regular and easy access to channels like C-Span, the BBC, Al Jazeera and others.
As an independent nation participating in the affairs of the international community, it is also vitally important that we have reliable sources of international news so the Bahamian public can make informed judgments about what is happening in the world.
In the mix of cable channels, it can not only be about the number of people watching a given channel. It must also be about the quality of programs offered. Which is why PBS is such an important channel to have. Similarly with Al Jazeera.
As an archipelago it is expensive and difficult to take services to each and every island and community. Family Islanders nevertheless expect their Government to make best efforts to do just that. In today’s world, access to TV is something of a necessity in terms of information, education and tourism.
Sadly, Cable Bahamas, which enjoyed a monopoly, woefully short-changed the Family Islands, especially with regard to the news channels available to them.
There needs to be greater consideration to providing more of the Family Islands with access to news channels beyond those of the US cable news networks.
Cable is a for-profit business. So the abundance of reality shows, the ups and downs of Honey Boo Boo and her family and the endless Housewives of this or that city, will continue to be juicy fare.
Yet, in the public interest, Cable Bahamas has offered important educational and news programs. Which is why: Whether a technical glitch or a glitch of poor judgment, many Bahamians would be most grateful if Cable Bahamas returned Al Jazeera to the air as soon as possible -- and perhaps make it and the BBC available throughout the Family Islands.