Meejit: Al Jazeera's absence

Commercial media companies have no political or ideological interests that might stand in the way of their own immediate profits, right?

The world would be a simpler place if we could just answer, "Right." But on the evidence of Al Jazeera's full or partial rejection by cable and satellite companies in the US, and so far by NTL here, you would have to treat that notion as another myth propagated by the media themselves, albeit a myth that lies deeper and with more support than those about journalistic independence and courage.

It's pretty piquant, all right, that BSkyB satellite subscribers can watch "Al Jazeera English" – mogul Murdoch apparently not fearing the competition from the Emir of Qatar, who bankrolls Al Jazeera. The station is undoubtedly one of the world's most recognisable media brands, with an immediate potential global audience for its English service of ethnic Arabs whose Arabic isn't what it might be, and millions of other Third World migrants residing in the West. In the US especially, they are being denied access.

As the rush to watch clips online suggests, there are innumerable other people who are at least curious about this station that purports to provide a perspective belonging less to the Islamic "East" than to the global South.


Brave new world

Presumably what is making the American media companies nervous about signing-up is the potential for political pressure from audiences and elites who don't like the idea of an airing for Al Jazeera's perspective. One hopes that Village readers don't need to have the myth of "terror TV" dispelled – but for the record: Al Jazeera has nothing to do with live beheadings or 24-hour ranting mullahs.

Indeed, probably the most disturbing aspect of the first days of Al Jazeera English from a western media perspective is the idea that "they" can match every technical strength of "our" news stations – with flashy studios, top-notch broadcasters and slick global resources – while providing a refreshing point of view, one that seems to be in synch and sympathy with ordinary Arabs, Africans and Asians.

Moreover, and despite the flashing headlines and boom-boom music, Al Jazeera English is happy to deliver its messages at a rather more human pace than we've been accustomed to, with a features style that doesn't insult viewers' intelligence. It quickly snagged a scoop of sorts, with Tony Blair admitting to David Frost that, like anyone with functioning sensory organs, he regards Iraq as a "disaster".

Let's not romanticise the station, which is subject to many of the same limitations as other journalistic outlets. But Al Jazeera English is also an intriguing experiment with some room to operate outside standard political and market parameters. Perhaps it is my naïve faith in humanity that suggests it could acquire a considerable audience if given the chance.

Baby and bathwater

Watching, listening to and reading Irish media last week, it was tempting to speculate that coverage of the painful Baby Ann case was slanted depending on whether outlets regarded their audiences as more or less likely to be adopters themselves – itself something of a class question. In reality, it didn't break down quite so cleanly as that, but certainly it seemed easier in many cases to mobilise sympathy for the would-be adoptive parents – often couched in pseudo-scientific language about the child's "bonding".

You were less likely to hear how much of this baby's bonding time with her foster parents happened after the birth-mother signalled her desire to have her back; and you were unlikely to read outraged complaints that a young woman should feel she must marry to have a fair chance of winning the argument that she is fit to raise the child she carried in her womb.

And whatever about the two-year-old's feelings, what about the 12-year-old who, if the High Court judgment had stood, might one day find out that her "parents" had won her in a court case against her natural parents?