Egyptian and American Democracy: Information Please

Frederick Thomas

Once again it's taken another "upheaval event" outside the U.S. to warrant coverage by the major U.S. news networks. By now we're all accustomed to the sight of network anchors flying in to take over a story -- usually reporting live from the scene. It says to us that this is an important event worthy of our attention. But it also points to another reality: the big U.S. news networks have little, if any, consistent presence around the world. Fly-ins are how it's done now. Although they may seem to see things differently, when it comes to reporting international news, NBC, CBS, MSNBC and Fox News are all equally blind.


The good news is there are alternative ways to get solid television news about what's taking place in the region -- any region really, but particularly this region right now. Al Jazeera English (AJE) is finally getting the real recognition it deserves; that of one of the best news organizations in the world. If you want to know what's really going on in Egypt, AJE can tell you because their reporters understand the region. Al Jazeera English has been doing stories about the building-up of tensions in the region as part of their regular reporting for years. And lest you think they only cover the Middle East you might want to check out their coverage of the Americas -- that's North and South America and includes the U.S. Al Jazeera English is simply a great television news organization. Perhaps that is why demand to see it has swelled in the U.S. in the last two weeks (200+ U.S. Twitter "meet-ups" demanding carriage scheduled through social media).


But it's not just Al Jazeera English that has invested heavily in reporting the world. France 24, in English, is now 5-years-old and has tremendous global reach. They are particularly good at covering the multifaceted dimensions of Europe, a region that is also undergoing fundamental shifts in geopolitics. Or how about NHK World from Japan? It too is in English, but in addition to news, includes feature programming aimed at explaining Japanese culture.


Many of you are probably thinking, "But other than these 'upheaval events' like Egypt, Americans don't really care about what's going on in the world." To this I can say with certainty that you're wrong. In Washington, D.C. we've assembled all of the news channels I mentioned above and six more through free-to-air digital broadcasting. Our channels, which are also carried by the regions cable TV systems, are thriving -- business is good for MHz.


Your next thought might be, "But that's just something Washington would be interested in." To that I'd add that our national channel, MHz Worldview, has spread like wildfire since we launched it five years ago. The channel features aggregated newscasts from multiple international sources -- including Al Jazeera English, France 24, NHK World, RT, ANI, IBA, Deutsche Welle, euronews -- and select international dramatic and sports programming. All of it in English or subtitled in English. To date, we're available in 31 distinct U.S. TV markets: big cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, and Denver; medium cities like Flint, Richmond, and Toledo; and small towns like Warrensburg, Plattsburg, and Topeka. We're even carried statewide in Utah. In total, 38M households can see MHz Worldview through one of our local public television affiliates, with many more on the way. We're also available on the Roku® digital video player. I won't bore you with all the details, but I can assure you that many, many Americans in every region of the country count on MHz Worldview to keep them informed about the world.


Which brings me back to my point -- when you're looking at what's wrong with American media there are plenty of things to list: celebrity reporters, opinion substituting fact, and sensationalism top the list. But in an age when most of America recognizes the need to better understand this interconnected world, our media's greatest shortcoming may be its lack of consistent international reporting. I'm hopeful that an unexpected outcome of the Egyptian developments will be a recognition that in a democratic society, access to information is key; whether that country is about to start on its path to democracy or has been at it for quite a while.