It is not hard to find examples of investigative reporting that changed the world. Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, and Seymour Hirsh's famous exposé of American soldiers' abuses in Vietnam, helped end slavery, reform the food industry, and end the war in Vietnam. At Amnesty International we used reports, press appearances, and rock concerts to spread the word about human rights abuses committed by governments around the world. Sometimes this too helped create positive change, prisoners were freed and repressive regimes toppled.
There is no doubt that a story is a very powerful thing. But who decides which stories get heard?
In America, a small number of corporate conglomerates hold the keys to powerful amplifiers. If a cable company does not carry a channel, the voices represented on that channel are less likely to be heard by the American public. This is true even with the rise of the Internet; most Americans still get their news from TV.
Unfortunately, our media waste too much time reporting on celebrities, sensationalizing family dramas, and giving opinions -- not news. I want my news to be factual, socially relevant, and delivered from diverse perspectives. Al Jazeera English (AJE) helps to fix this problem by providing solid reporting from diverse perspectives not often heard in the mainstream U.S. press.
AJE is truly global in its coverage. It is the only news network with more bureaus in Asia, Africa, and Latin America (the regions where most of the world's people live) than in Europe and North America and has won accolades and awards for its coverage of the tsunami in Japan, the drug war in Mexico, this year's inspiring "Arab Spring." But it does not stop there. Its coverage of the U.S. is also top-notch. The channel has had superb reporting on how the current economic crisis is affecting Americans.
The channel is also global in its reach. It broadcasts to over 250 million households in 120 countries on 6 continents and is the most watched news channel on YouTube with over 2.5 million views per month. Surely Americans want in on this worldwide phenomenon.
I am lucky to live in Washington, D.C. where my cable company provides me access to the channel. Regrettably, not everyone here in the U.S. can watch it. Cable companies in only 5 places across the U.S. offer 24-hour access to AJE (Washington DC; Toledo OH; Burlington VT; Bristol County, RI; and most recently New York City, NY). This is not enough.
A global power needs an informed citizenry. Cable companies should provide access to this valuable resource to all their costumers. This would be a great step toward helping Americans understand the culture and politics of other regions, in turn helping us become better neighbors to the world.
The public can play a role in making this happen. In the 1980s, when MTV was first launched, cable companies were reluctant to carry the channel. So musicians and music lovers launched the "I want my MTV " campaign encouraging fans across the country to call their cable companies to ask for the channel. (Google "Sting, I want my MTV" for some fun 80s nostalgia). Now MTV is a staple in all basic cable packages.
Just as music lovers rallied for MTV, lovers of democracy and freedom of information must rally behind Al Jazeera English. This is going to require mass citizen action. Call your cable companies today and join one of the media activist groups working for this great cause. Rethink Press' website is a great place to start: http://rethinkpress.org.
As we Americans try to piece together our future, it would be helpful to know what those too often ignored by the media are doing, saying, hoping, and striving for.
Sign the change.org petition.