Burlington weighs in on Al-Jazeera network

06/12/08 7:34AM By Steve Zind
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(Host) The public weighed in last night on whether or not Burlington's city-owned cable company should continue to carry the Middle Eastern news network Al Jazeera English.

Some consider the network to be anti-American.

Burlington is one of only two cable companies in the country carrying Al Jazeera, and as VPR's Steve Zind reports, representatives of the network came to Vermont to join the debate.

(Zind) Burlington Telecom has carried Al Jazeera English for two years, but debate over it has erupted in just the last two months.

It was sparked by a decision by Burlington Telecom's manager to drop the network.

Mayor Bob Kiss stepped in and put the decision on hold until the public could comment.

Last night's forum drew about 125 people and nearly half had something to say. Most, like Richard Weed, spoke in favor of keeping Al Jazeera on Burlington Telecom.

(Weed) "It appears to me that since 9-11, there is no more self-evident fact than that of our ignorance of the Arabic world."

(Zind) Those who spoke against Al Jazeera said carrying the controversial network is a bad business decision for a company like Burlington Telecom that isn't yet turning a profit.

Others questioned the agenda of the network. Kay Trudell pointed out that Al Jazeera is owned by the government of Qatar which is a hereditary monarchy.

(Trudell) "They may have a right to broadcast, but we don't necessarily have to invite them into the United States of America. If we offer them a spot on our airwaves, they're not going to be blatantly obvious. I call it soft, subtle cultural jihad. We have a right to espouse every argument we wish, but we don't need to invite a foreign government's organ in to do it for us. Soft and subtle, folks, soft and subtle."

(Zind) Opponents said a city owned cable company shouldn't be carrying a network that some of its citizens object to so much that they refuse to subscribe.

But others said it was exactly because Burlington Telecom is community owned that it should provide diverse programming.

That was James Leas point.

(Leas) "One of the speakers on the other side of this debate said that somehow our freedom is going to be jeopardized if we are permitted the choice to tune in to Al Jazeera. I think the truth is just the opposite: We lose our freedom when choices are taken away."

(Zind) At risk of losing one of its two cable carriers in the U.S., Al Jazeera flew a contingent to Burlington to talk up the network.

Josh Rushing is a Washington-based correspondent for Al Jazeera.

He used to be a Marine. He was a spokesman for Central Command in the Iraq war.

Rushing told the crowd that he once viewed Al Jazeera as anti-American but he changed his mind when he was interviewed by the network.

(Rushing) "But it was only by being there, by actually going inside the Al Jazeera newsroom in uniform to give the interviews about the war, that I started to see all the things that I thought I knew about it, all the accusations that I had been told, that Secretary Rumsfeld, my boss was putting out about it were, in fact, not true."

(Zind) In coming weeks, a committee that advises Burlington Telecom will make a recommendation on Al Jazeera. Then it will be up to the company's management to make a final decision. For VPR news, I'm Steve Zind.



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