Reports are circulating that Al Jazeera English, the "toned down" version of Al Jazeera, has been making rounds this week among some of America's largest cable operators, including Philadelphia-based Comcast.
Managing director Al Anstey's goal: to secure carriage agreements.
The pitches will likely center on free speech, freedom of religion, and free-flowing money (from the Emir of Qatar). Arguments will be made that Al Jazeera serves an underserved, very small minority of our society, further bolstered by claims of a dramatic (2,500%) spike in Al Jazeera Web traffic during the recent Egyptian uprising, half of which reportedly came from the United States.
What's a large, socially conscious MSO to do?
Well, to start, let's look at content, because, after all, this is all that really matters to the TV world. Based on a review of their program guide, shows like "Witness: Yemen - School of Democracy"; "Empire: Information Wars"; and "People and Power: The Pied Piper of Jihad," all look to provide valuable and diverse new ways of thinking about the world around us.
I cannot verify reports, however, that one of Al Jazeera's most popular shows, "Sharia and Life," will be broadcast on Al Jazeera English. Much to this writer's chagrin, S&L's host, Muslim televangelist Youssef (or Yusuf) al-Qaradawi, who was twice asked to lead the Muslim Brotherhood (but declined), was not available for comment locally, as he has been banned from entering the United States for over a decade now.
Beyond cheerleading the destruction of Israel and the death of all "Jewish Zionists, every last one of them," he has reportedly provided equally... unique?... recommendations for dealing with many nagging social problems, including the occasional feisty female ("blows are not effective with every woman, but they are helpful with some"). Let's not be too hasty to judge, however -- in a bold and modern move to the center, the big YaQ has also been sourced as acknowledging a woman's right to make some important decisions for themselves; Qaradawi admits, for example, that a husband's permission is not needed, if she wishes to blow herself up in an Isreali café.
Kind of sheds new light on Janis Joplin's singing "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose."
Now certainly, these citations and references may, to some readers, draw unnecessary attention to Al Jazeera's fringe programs, and the radical politics simmering beneath its polished surface. Nonetheless, it does raise a valid question - "Should a man who is not allowed to enter this country, physically, be allowed to enter it, via broadcast?"
More importantly, should a network that promotes this kind of mindset, be allowed to permeate our culture through our airwaves?
And of course, the question that we must ultimately face, as Al Jazeera TV and mosques at Ground Zero become more and more numbingly mainstreamed, is, at what point do we get off the slippery slope, and just say "No"?
Comcast and others are about to come face to face with a very important decision; public pressure will be further shrouded by well-funded initiatives, cloaked in poorly-understood concepts like "democracy" and "religious freedom."
In reality, what we're seeing playing out on the airwaves of Al Jazeera is a study on mobocracy, as it morphs into theocracy across the African continent, the Middle East, and its outer suburbs of Madison, Wisconsin.
Sanitizing Al Jazeera for American audiences is just the next step in a patient, multi-generational game of Risk. Al Jazeera in our living rooms represents an advance scouting party, settling snugly inside the IPG (Interactive Program Guide), which suddenly appears to be an acronym for Increasingly Porous Gatekeeper.
So - what do YOU think? Is Al Jazeera's carriage campaign a prescient pitch...
Or a sleeper sell?