N.H. television station cuts off Al Jazeera

Al Jazeera English newsroom in Doha, Qatar

New Hampshire-based media commentator, political activist and all-around force of nature Deborah “Arnie” Arnesen may lose her gig as a contributor to Al Jazeera English, the English-language service of the Qatar-based news service.

Last week WMUR-TV (Channel 9) in Manchester, N.H., apparently shut off access to Al-Jazeera, which Arnesen had used to broadcast several segments. According to the Concord Monitor, Arnesen had been scheduled to appear on Al-Jazeera to discuss President Obama’s outreach to women and minorities. Instead, she had to do it by phone.

The Monitor reports that WMUR has not responded to requests for comment. But Sarah Alansary, a producer for Al Jazeera, is quoted as saying the station sent a message cutting off access:

They sent an e-mail telling them sorry, the studio’s no longer booked for you. We don’t wish to do business with your organization. I don’t know what’s the reason.

Unless someone from WMUR chooses to speak, it’s hard to know what’s going on. But by staying silent, station management has fostered the perception that it doesn’t want to do business with Al Jazeera, which is controversial in some circles, for political reasons.

“Every candidate on the planet who thinks of running for president is coming here,” Arnesen tells the Monitor. “Don’t you want the Middle East to know what’s going on? What message are they sending by shutting them off?”

I spoke briefly with Arnesen about this last week. Needless to say, she was perplexed and annoyed.

Al Jazeera is a legitimate news organization. As this New York Times “Topics” page notes, Al-Jazeera reaches 40 million viewers around the world, and it acts as a wire service for CNN and other American news operations. The perspective it offers is quite different from that of the Western media, but isn’t that the point?

Al Jazeera English is available on very few U.S. cable systems, but it does offer a YouTube channel. Its current lead story — about drug addiction in Iran — is exactly the sort of thing you’re unlikely to see on American television.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

45 thoughts on “N.H. television station cuts off Al Jazeera

  1. Joey

    Well, yes, it is a dumb decision on MUR’s part– but can’t she just go down to that station in Derry where Kaprelian just got sacked? WNDS, Channel 50?

    And yeah, Kaprelian was a classic part of New England. I miss him.

  2. lkcape

    We’re waiting, Dan, for you explanation as to why WMUR sould be required to provide Arnesen access and as to why need to offer an explanation.

    Sure, it would be nice to know, but isn’t their business decision one that they are entitled to make?

  3. Mike F

    Dan, could you clarify what you mean by political reasons? Because this would seem to me to be something that could simply be a P.R. move, given that Al Jazeera, regardless of its actual legitimacy as a news organization, probably has a very negative reputation with most Americans.

  4. Colin

    @Ikcape

    An explanation is warranted because TV stations provide this service to each other all the time. If WMUR wants to do an interview with a specialist in California, they call up a station in California and ask them to use the facility.

    Hard to believe it’s costing the station too much for a contributor to film a segment or two a month at their studio.

  5. Harrybosch

    “We’re waiting, Dan, for you explanation as to why WMUR sould be required to provide Arnesen access and as to why need to offer an explanation.”

    I missed the part where Dan said WMUR “should be required to provide Arneson access” or where he said they “need to offer an explanation.”

    Reading is fundamental.

    And again, what’s this we stuff?

  6. lkcape

    The point, Colin, is that it is WMUR’s choice to make.

    If they wish to cut themselves off from access elsewhere, that is a consequence that they get to face.

    There is no requirement to grant access to anyone for any reason.

  7. Harrybosch

    It is indeed WMUR’s choice to make, provided that whatever choices they make serve the public interest.

    Those granted the privilege of using the public airwaves are not unfettered free marketeers.

  8. Dunque

    Dan – In fairness, you are certainly arguing that it makes sound business and journalistic sense for MUR to provide Al Jazeera an outlet. I think that is what lkcape’s objection involves.

    For my part I have a hard time equating “legitimate news organization” with an organization that willingly acts as a conduit for terrorist rantings.

    It seems as if MUR may have come to the same conclusion.

  9. Harrybosch

    “For my part I have a hard time equating “legitimate news organization” with an organization that willingly acts as a conduit for terrorist rantings.”

    One man’s terrorist rantings is another man’s freedom fight.

    For myself, I wanna hear whatever they have to say.

  10. O-FISH-L

    What Rich said.

    @Harrybosch: Apples and oranges. This has nothing to do with the public airwaves for which WMUR holds an FCC license. This is simply a decision to no longer provide space for Al Jazeera to tape material to be shown elsewhere. Good for WMUR.

    1. Dan Kennedy

      Here’s an interesting story from the AP. Headline: “Al-Qaida supporters decry Al-Jazeera.” The most entertaining quote is from an Al-Qaeda supporter who calls Al-Jazeera a “miserable fly in the garbage” and writes, “Your day will come, vile one. As long as we live, you won’t be safe, Jazeera.”

      For anyone who’s interested in learning more about Al-Jazeera, I recommend the 2004 documentary “The Control Room.” Definitely worth a Netflix.

  11. Joey

    Lkcape, why on earth would you not want to know what your opponents are doing or thinking? I just don’t follow the logic.

    As to WMUR… if they wanna act like jerks with the airwaves we the taxpayers own, yes, that annoys me.

  12. Harrybosch

    “This has nothing to do with the public airwaves for which WMUR holds an FCC license. This is simply a decision to no longer provide space for Al Jazeera to tape material to be shown elsewhere.”

    Hmmm. Your viewpoint is arguable, certainly.

    But I suppose a citizen who caught wind of such a decision might not believe that it “serves the public interest” (a very broad charter, don’t you think?) and the FCC would have to listen.

    The citizen might be blown off, certainly. But it might be an interesting discussion.

  13. LFNeilson

    “an organization that willingly acts as a conduit for terrorist rantings”
    1. All news outlets do this. The terror is much more in the message than in the action. Any media that carries news of actions or messages is unwittingly serving as a conduit.
    2. You’re in the news biz, and you’re given a tape. What are you going to do, bury it? Burn it? Besides news value, it also has intelligence value.

    AJ has reporters in many areas which get scant coverage from western media, especially since cutbacks due to the economy. I’ve found their reporting to be informative and unbiased.

  14. Dunque

    LFNeilson – When you are the only one to whom the originals of terrorist rants are being provided, you are allowing your organization to be used. That’s not legitimate news gathering – it’s merely being taken advantage of as a distribution platform.

  15. lkcape

    My comments have nothing to do with what I want to see and read and hear. I get information from multiple, frequently opposing sources ever day.

    It’s WMUR’s decision as to how they use their facilities.

    It is also WMUR’s obligation to accept whatever the consequences are for their decision.

    A radio station’s public license is NOT dependent upon their willingness to, in essence, produce material for another network’s use, in spite of what the liberal elite might want to contend.

    Quite frankly, I have found Al Jaszeera’s offerings quite informative and see WMUR’s decision as short sighted.

    But it is their choice. Not mine, not Dan’s, not Arneson’s, not the liberal elite’s, and certainly not the government’s.

  16. LFNeilson

    Then none of the other networks should broadcast it. If Al Jazera weren’t there, they would use another vehicle. Many of Al Quida’s communications are sent via the internet. Should we ban it?

    Have you ever watched Al Jazera?

  17. Peter Porcupine

    DK – regarding the potential for political access in New Hampshire.

    In 2008 at the GOP covnetion in Minneapolis, Al Jazeera had a broadcast booth (right next to MSNBC, as it happens).

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  20. homingpigeon

    “For my part I have a hard time equating “legitimate news organization” with an organization that willingly acts as a conduit for terrorist rantings.”

    Statements like this are exactly why Americans need to watch Al-Jazeera. Don’t worry, you wouldn’t have to learn Arabic. They have an international service in English and it is a class act.

    Yes, they have broadcast the statements of Osama Bin Ladin. They also are the first Arab owned station regularly to broadcast interviews with Israeli leaders. They also gave more time to George Bush than any American station. Though I suppose it could be argued that this was one more cunning way to make anti-American propaganda – or indeed to broadcast terrorist rantings.

    What’s with this desire in some sectors of America to remain pig ignorant?

  21. Aaron Read

    “Statements like this are exactly why Americans need to watch Al-Jazeera. Don’t worry, you wouldn’t have to learn Arabic. They have an international service in English and it is a class act.”

    Yes and no, I’ve watched Al-Jazeera here and there over the years, and their reporting on the US reminds me a lot of the BBC World Service when the BBC is reporting on the U.K. – conveniently ignoring a lot of crucial facts because they don’t spin the story the way someone obviously wants it spun.

    (note: the Beeb is, generally speaking, really good at reporting on anything BUT the home country, so to speak…they just stink at that one aspect. This has been “confirmed” by several British colleagues and friends.)

    Anyways, if Al-Jazeera had this shortcoming in such a narrow context like the Beeb, then I’d be inclined to give it a pass. But the exact problem is that so much of the Middle East ONLY gets their news about the US from Al-Jazeera, and I’d argue it goes way beyond “a different perspective” and into a “clear bias to pander to the viewer” territory.

    This might be overstating it a bit, but it feels sort of like the Fox News to the Middle East, ya know? If you watch it as part of a “balanced” overall media diet, then it’s informative to know that point of view. But if it’s the only thing you watch, it’s like pigging out at McDonald’s every day – not healthy.

    That all said, it’s perfectly within WMUR’s right to not rent their studios to anyone they choose. I agree with Dan that it’s hard to see how this ISN’T a political decision, and I sympathize with the sentiment that making such a blatantly political decision is arguably inappropriate for a media outlet that claims to be a major news source for the region. I disagree with any claim that this has FCC implications; that only applies to what goes on WMUR’s airwaves…that concept has been repeatedly tested on both radio and TV stations over the years. But it could have implications on WMUR if word gets around (perhaps spread by Arneson) and viewers are offended enough to stop watching…a very unlikely scenario, of course. If anything I would wager the majority of WMUR’s viewers would support their position. Tepidly, but support nonetheless.

    Of course, I don’t see at all why this is a huge problem for Arneson. The famed VideoLink firm just opened a new video studio at Saint Anselm College, also in Manchester, NH and about 3 miles away from WMUR’s studios. Having worked a lot with VideoLink in the past, I’m pretty sure they could accommodate her.

    http://www.videolink.tv/index.cfm?pid=10253&cdid=10611

  22. portsmouthdan

    I travel a great deal internationally and have often lamented the fact that news broadcasts in the United States are objectively worse (dumber) than what is available in major cities overseas. For instance, in Hong Kong (for those not watching, Hong Kong is probably the greatest city in the world as measured by skyline, money, efficient government, culture; Hong Kong basically makes NYC look like a decrepit hellhole whose time has come and gone) the major news networks are BBC World and Al-Jazeera English. Both are very professional, erudite, and balanced. This is what the elites of the world are watching, but you won’t see them on US televisions. This decision to get rid of Al-Jazeera English only makes the U.S. less informed and objectively dumber. I am a proud American and this gives me nightmares, especially when I see other parts of the world surpassing us in a number of important categories (again, see Hong Kong and you’ll see the future that is passing us by – something inconceivable as recent as 15 years ago).

    Interestingly, the American channels in Hong Kong include CNN International, which is what CNN broadcasts internationally but not in the U.S. HERE’S THE RUB: CNN International is much, much better (smarter, balanced, informed) than the domestic U.S. CNN broadcast. So even the U.S. networks understand that they produce an inferior product for the domestic market. This is a cause for concern.

  23. CAvard

    It’s a shame that WMUR has to politicize which networks they rent their studio for. I can’t stand FOX News for the life of me, but if WMUR chose to do the same like they did with Al Jazeera, I’d be equally upset. I think it does a disservice for New Hampshire’s pundits and other pertinent experts who have a lot to share with Al Jazeera viewers.

    On the flipside, Dan writes:

    >>> I spoke briefly with Arnesen about this last week. Needless to say, she was perplexed and annoyed. <<<

    I can only imagine Arnie getting "perplexed and annoyed." I'd like to see a contest between her and Barney Frank as to who can get the most words in in 20 seconds flat. They can spit out words like a machine gun : )

  24. portsmouthdan

    Aaron Read says that Al-Jazeera is like Fox News. I strenuously disagree. Even taking the Israeli-Palestinian issue, I think Al-Jazeera does a much better job of coverage than any U.S. network. Overall, they are critical of Israel policies in the West Bank and Gaza. But at least Al-Jazeera covers both sides. They go into Israeli settlements and interview the settlers, you get to know them as people and learn their motivations and worldview. There’s no real portrayal of settlers on U.S. networks at all, either to praise or to condemn – the whole issue is elided. So no, I don’t agree that Al-Jazeera English is like Fox News. The comparison is laughable. Fox News is risible.

  25. stevieb

    Somewhere in this story is a Zionist Jew(s) who quite simply doesn’t want Americans to hear the truth about Israel’s crimes in the Occupied territories.

    Obviously. Al-jazeera is an excellent news service. Which is why fascist Jews want it gone…

  26. O-FISH-L

    Did I miss something or did Arnesen / Al-jazeera have a written lease or contract to use WMUR’s studio?

    I didn’t think so.

    Simple concept in property law for overstayed guests and tenants at will: The owner gets possession. The unwanted person gets to hit the bricks. Everything has a price. If Arnesen and Al-jazeera want the WMUR studio that bad, they should make an offer. This isn’t cable access, after all.

  27. Aaron Read

    @PortsmouthDan: I wasn’t talking about Al-Jazeera’s coverage of Israel, I specifically said I was talking about Al-Jazeera’s coverage of the United States.

    When Al-Jazeera reports on U.S. news items, I invariably feel like they’ve left out a lot of crucial context from the story, and the end result is a news report that feels like pandering. As I said, it’s the same feeling I get listening to the BBC World Service when they talk about the U.K. With the Beeb, it’s kinda understandable…unlike NPR, the BBC World Service does rely heavily on funding direct from their government. No matter what “firewalls” you put up or how good a journalist you are, it’s not easy to be truly objective in such a situation. What’s Al-Jazeera’s excuse? (again, assuming they need one…I don’t pretend to think that my opinion alone is “damning” of an entire media network)

    Anyways, when Al-Jazeera is reporting on anything else besides the U.S., I readily agree their reporting strives (and usually succeeds) in getting perspectives from multiple angles. And usually it’s pretty good reporting overall. Sometimes I think they try a little too hard to get perspectives from people who shouldn’t be allowed to spew forth their “perspective”. But I can’t condemn them for that.

  28. Harrybosch

    “With the Beeb, it’s kinda understandable”

    Say “Beeb” one more time.

    One . . . more . . . time.

  29. CAvard

    Aaron Reed: Why not “confirm” if they are as opposed to “feeling like” Al Jazeera is leaving out a lot of crucial context?

    I never thought Al Jazeera panders on US news items. I could confirm that if you want. : )

  30. portsmouthdan

    @aaron read: Fair enough, I agree their coverage of the U.S. is lackluster. Overall, though, a fine news source, better than the average sources available in the U.S.

    @stevieb: You’re being cynical. That isn’t to say you’re wrong, because I suspect you’re on to something. God I wish the USA – MY country, the one I love – could distance itself from Israel and all of the crimes of that squalid little rogue state. By the way, I’ve been to the West Bank and I’ve seen in person what Israel is up to. 99.9% of Americans would throw up if they knew what’s really happening to the Palestinians. Think South Africa in the 1980s or the Native Americans in the 1880s and you’ll have a clue.

  31. CAvard

    portsmouthdan says says: ” I’ve seen in person what Israel is up to. 99.9% of Americans would throw up if they knew what’s really happening to the Palestinians. Think South Africa in the 1980s or the Native Americans in the 1880s and you’ll have a clue.”

    Thank you SO MUCH for saying that. I’ve been saying the same thing for a couple of years now, only to get attacked, laughed at, or called other stuff for believing in that. I’m glad to know I’m not alone in the wilderness. I too believe if people went to Palestine and saw what was happening, they really would throw up.

    However, I really don’t think Al Jazeera’s coverage of the US is lackluster. I think you would expect provocative shows and such from the likes of Riz Khan and other like-minded journalists, but their straight news content, as far as I know, has been spot on most of the time. They’re not like Fox News that flagrantly make mistakes in basic reporting and presenting of facts. Fox doesn’t care. Al Jazeera does.

  32. portsmouthdan

    CAvard,

    You’re not alone, just in the great minority in the States. What’s so frustrating is that Israeli depredations are not some hidden conspiracy – it’s all out in the open, available to anyone willing to see and hear. Jeff Halper, David Shulman, and Anna Baltzer (all Jewish) know what’s up, and thankfully they’re speaking out:

    http://www.amazon.com/Dark-Hope-Working-Israel-Palestine/dp/0226755746/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1264614664&sr=1-1

    http://www.amazon.com/Witness-Palestine-American-Occupied-Territories/dp/1594513074/ref=pd_sim_b_2

    http://www.amazon.com/Israeli-Palestine-Resisting-Dispossession-Redeeming/dp/0745322263/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1264614689&sr=1-1

    I pray the Occupation will end, and Israel and Palestine both saved in the process.

    -dan

  33. Dunque

    portsmouthdan says says: ” I’ve seen in person what Israel is up to. 99.9% of Americans would throw up if they knew what’s really happening to the Palestinians.

    For that the Palestinian “leadership” surely owns a healthy share of the blame.

    Let’s not forget, either, that part of what Israel was “up to” was a unilateral settlement withdrawal followed by ongoing rocket fire into their territories.

    What government wouldn’t seek to defend themselves under those circumstances.

  34. CAvard

    Dunque,

    I think you’re wrong on all three counts. But I’m not going to turn this discussion into an Israel-Palestine pissing match. This is about Al Jazeera, not Mideast politics.

    1. Dan Kennedy

      Bill: The Monitor contacted WMUR for comment and got nothing. I did not attempt to replicate their experiment.

  35. Bill

    It’s interesting only that WMUR is essentially a douopoly run by WCVB Channel 5 management for Hearst. I can’t imagine CVB treating Al Jazeera the same way.

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