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Mayor Says Burlington Telecom Won't Pull the Plug Yet on Al Jazeera

Local Matters


Published May 21, 2008 at 12:35 p.m.

Burlington Mayor Bob Kiss has called on the city-owned cable system, Burlington Telecom, to keep Al Jazeera English on the air until residents and two citizens' advisory committees have had a chance to weigh in.

"For the time being, the channel is not going to come off BT," confirmed Joe Reinert, the mayor's assistant. "I think it's 'stay tuned,' no pun intended."

On May 7, Seven Days first reported that, following subscriber complaints, BT's General Manager Chris Burns had decided unilaterally to pull the Arab news network from its programming. At the time, Burns wouldn't discuss the specifics of the decision, citing unresolved "contractual issues."

Community backlash from the story prompted Kiss to ask the Burlington Telecom Advisory Committee (BTAC) to take up the issue at its next meeting, scheduled for May 27 at 4 p.m. in Contois Auditorium. BT's Cable Advisory Council will also participate and may take public comments.

Neither advisory committee was notified of BT's decision before it became known. Burns didn't return calls and an email seeking comment. In a written statement, he said the decision to cease carrying the channel was based on an annual review of its cable contracts, which revealed that BT had no contract to carry the network. This, he wrote, "presents a significant risk and liability to the distributor, in this case, BT."

BTAC Chair Greg Epler Wood wouldn't say whether he thinks AJE should be removed, noting, "the process is the most important issue at the moment. The antidote to bad speech is more speech," he added. "I'm not saying AJE even has bad speech on it. But I'm in favor of more rather than less."