Burlington weighs benefits of AJE

Advisory councils to poll locals about channel

Getting your cable channel dropped from the local carrier in Burlington, Vt. — and its approximately 2,000 subscribers — may not seem like a tremendous loss. But when that carrier constitutes 50% of your cable market, you definitely want to resolve the problem.

Al Jazeera English was celebrating last week — even issuing a press release — after reupping with Burlington Telecom following a citywide debate over whether the cable company should be carrying the channel.

AJE is the English-language edition of Al Jazeera News Network, based in Doha, Qatar. Since its launch in November 2006, AJE has struggled for acceptance among U.S. viewers who feel its parent company has an anti-American bias and is even sympathetic to Al Qaeda.

So far, AJE has gotten cable carriage only in Toledo, Ohio, and Burlington. It’s also available on two small U.S. satellite providers.

But a recent contract negotiation raised the possibility that Burlington might drop AJE, with Burlington mayor Bob Kiss tasking two advisory councils to find out what area residents felt.

Some said “AJE’s content is objectionable in that it supports terrorism, anti-Semitism and promotes the destruction of the state of Israel,” the councils reported.

“But that was only a handful of people,” says Josh Rushing, an AJE correspondent who attended the public meetings. “The majority of people supported us and thought we should still be carried.”

Indeed, the two advisory councils issued a 20-paragraph resolution, each one beginning with “Whereas,” the importance of free expression, the ability to block unwanted channels, residents’ “unequivocally opposed to hateful and intolerant speech in whatever form,” and the freedom to watch what you want. The councils unanimously recommended keeping AJE, and last week, Burlington Telecom and AJE inked a new deal.

“Not everybody agreed that we should carry the channel,” says Joe Reinart, assistant to Mayor Kiss. “But from the city’s perspective, we’re pleased we could reach an agreement.”

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