When we arrived in the United States twenty years ago, it did not take long for my father, a diplomat who can watch the news from morning to night with an occasional break for a sporting event and sometimes a movie, to find PBS. We would watch the garbage of network news fooled by their “national” and “world” segments, which took us as far as the steps of Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. and then would supplement with 30 minutes of BBC News on PBS to get an idea of what was really going on in the world.
My thirst for news is entirely my father’s fault. Not only did he rule the TV remote and thus the TV programming in the house but for me, I had the special experience of spending hours with him in his office when we lived in Germany, having been brought to the embassy from school in the embassy van by the chauffeur (fine, we called him the driver if we were not calling him by name but chauffeur sounds much more regal, doesn’t it?) and waiting for him to finish his work so we could go home.
I was an eight year old The Economist reader, though I far preferred the colourful pages of Newsweek and Time, and I would read them, for I love words, while eating the fried rabbit or chicken my mom often sent my dad to the office with for his lunch. Which really begs the question now decades later, what (where) did he eat for lunch? Hmmmm! I digress. Then, on the drive home, I would be tired, leaning my head on the car window, watching the stars above, or the paucity of trabants (cars in general) on the roads or my frosty breath and listening to what else but the BBC World News on the radio. This is the BBC World Service in London. Lillibullero. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beeeeeep!
Even in Ghana and in the US, when I no longer had to side-trip to his office in order to get home from school, he would bring the news magazines and the local newspapers home for me to read (mmhmmm, for no one else just moi). And when CNN International (CNNi) started to be broadcast at night after GTV, Ghana’s national TV station, signed off, I was up late at night (on non-school nights) watching and learning about our world.
It’s only natural then that I enjoy staying abreast with what is going on in the world and that I get easily offended by programming and content that offend my intelligence (network news).
So, when Al Jazeera Media Network acquired Current TV from former U.S.
Vice President Al Gore earlier this year, I was excited that Al Jazeera
news was coming to a screen near me. I was already a voracious reader of their online content and was tuning in nightly to their Al Jazeera English online stream via a Roku box not only for the news but also for their original programming such as the expose on African prostitutes in Rome I previously blogged about. That excitment was short-lived because I realized that the station was to be Al Jazeera America and I was reminded
that the American version of any news outlet (BBC, CNN, Time magazine etc.) is
not as comprehensive and informative as their international counterpart is. Just take a look at US vs. other Time magazine covers here. It took me a long time to realize that this must be purposeful in
some way. As if almost to say that the media either
does not believe Americans can handle serious or thoughtful issues or that they
deceivingly call their programming “news” but really have no intent to
inform but rather to entertain for ratings (making profits) purposes.
I knew then that I would not be tuning in to Al Jazeera America. But when Al Jazeera America started its broadcast in August something terrible happened. Al Jazeera English became no longer available in the United States. A complete black out. I didn’t realize it then as I was in the midst of my traveling, packing and moving. When my Al Jazeera channel on Roku quit working, I thought it was temporary. After about a month of an Al Jazeera news drought supplemented by CNN International (via Roku) or BBC World Service (also via Roku), I went searching for it on the Roku Newscaster channel and it was not there. Nor was it on EuroNews or Livestation. All I’m left with now is a horrible feed from the private Nowhere TV channel on Roku which is still able to stream it (should I keep that a secret?) that comes with annoying and erratic repetitive buffering, restarts, and minutes of lost programming.
I then painfully learnt that as part of the deal Al Jazeera made to be carried on American cable TV, they decided to geographically block Al Jazeera English for U.S. viewers. Can you imagine, we the people have become collateral damage? Worse yet, my cable network does not carry Al Jazeera America (were I to want to give them the benefit of the doubt) and I suppose I’m to petition them to carry it for Al Jazeera’s sake.
This is terrible. If I were a conspiracy theorist, this would drive me insane. We have been censored my friends. Once again the media is deciding what we can watch and not watch, and how we are going to watch whatever it is they decide to feed us with and I’m not too happy about that. A sad state of affairs indeed.
The final nails in the coffin have come for me now. In the past month, I have been unable to receive CNN International nor BBC World Service on my Roku. What is up with that? I am willing myself to believe that that too is just a temporary glitch. Now, I am left to get my alternative news from Sky News via Roku which while not bad repeats the same stories every 30 minutes it seems and taunts me by offering CBS Nightly News as one of their segments. My Roku, once a precious mini-box, is fast becoming useless.
Where am I to turn to for my news?