The Arabic translation of Al Jazeera is "the island." But now, that island is about to be deep-sixed off the West Coast of New England.
Community outcry has forced Burlington Telecom to pull the Arab news network's English-language broadcast from its programming. General Manager Chris Burns wouldn't discuss the details of the change, citing "contractual issues" that are still being hashed out. He did say, however, that since the city-owned cable channel, which has 2100 subscribers, began carrying Al Jazeera last year, his office has received "dozens" of complaints from angry customers demanding that it be yanked.
Al Jazeera was launched from Qatar in 1996. It has long been criticized in the West for its "anti-American and anti-Israel" bias and, in particular, for broadcasting tapes released by Osama bin Laden. Among those critical of the network are Paul Laffal and Jeffrey Kaufman, of the Israel Center of Vermont, who told the center's members that "hate speech insidiously presented as news serves only to undermine the basic tenets of democracy."
But many in the Arab world, particularly academics, have lauded the station for a more balanced and objective coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the war in Iraq. Al Jazeera claims a worldwide viewership of more than 100 million households and is the most-watched news network in the Middle East.
Burlington Telecom is one of just two cable systems in the United States carrying Al Jazeera right now; the other is Buckeye Cable in Ohio. The network is also available via broadband. "We're a small cable TV carrier in Burlington trying to acquire more business," Burns said. "We really don't need to stir up more dust."