Puppet shows. The biased world of cable news.
There are lies, damn lies and cable news, or something like that. We've long been savvy to the partisan excretions from the nether regions of the right wing bowel, better known as Fox News, but newer players in the cable news world are providing other shades and agendas that get less attention.
Al-Jazeera has been a welcome addition to our, (via Freeview and Sky 90) daily diet of news. At first flush it's a BBC wannabe, with a more rounded view of the non-English world. Al-Jazeera is owned by the Government of Qatar, the oil and gas rich nation where Sharia is the law, and the Emir's family have ruled since the mid 19th century. They have a small population (2 million) but very deep pockets, and in their bid to launch the channel in the USA last year, they acquired the failing Current TV slot (owned by Al Gore) for US $500 million.
Al Jazeera was the place that Osama Bin-Laden's video messages were played out at the beginning of the century. Naturally this means that Fox News and Israel are not fans of the network, and Americans in general remain deeply suspicious of it. However it's acceptance has grown since 2001 when the New York Times referred to it as "the Arab language network that has become the Taliban's favorite forum."
A 2008 story in which Al Jazeera interviewed people attending a Sarah Palin election rally in Ohio shows what they do best and what upsets Americans the most. They turn the tables - in this case, by highlighting some of the maddest people the USA has to offer. It's the opposite of the screaming fundamentalists western news uses to represent Iran or Syria or wherever. But Al Jazeera's bias has been called out too. The network's pro Muslim Brotherhood leanings have been well documented, leading to mass resignations, while criticism of the Qatari leadership is not tolerated.
Of course CNN and even 3News have their own form of bias and are also tools of big business, government, or even the Bunnings Warehouse. Perhaps it's all a matter of degree.
We all know that Fox is off the chain with its lack of fairness or balance, but it is far from alone. Of late I've become slightly obsessed with Russian news network Russia Today, or RT, (Sky 92) perhaps the strangest of all the cable news offerings.
Here you will find alternative views on events such as the war in Ukraine, the downing of flight MH17 and even 9/11. Like your Emo nephew, or hippy aunty, RT is unsure about what 'really' went on at the World Trade Center, is suspicious of 'Jewish money' and it hates banks. You may even find yourself agreeing with some of it. "Fracking is a hoax", says finance commentator Max Keiser, whose slot is as refreshing as it is preposterous. He takes great delight in slamming western institutions and sounding a constant alarm for a looming crisis or even capitalistic collapse. Just this week the story about Rurik Jutting, the British banker who killed two women in Hong Kong sparked a bizarre bout of 'I told you so' from Keiser, who had recently called bankers "mass murderers". Holding aloft a newspaper with headlines relating to the grisly crime in Hong Kong, Keiser turned the coincidence into a prediction that Nostradamus would be proud of: "Once again proving what I have been saying ... If you don't offer any deterrent to the mass murderers that are the Merrill Lynch bankers, HSBC, Barclays, Lloyds, RBS - that have been laundering money for Hamas, or HSBC who have been laundering money for Hezbollah - if you don't stop them, they'll start to murder people." RT is home to many such WTF moments.
You suspect that the people behind the scenes haven't met a conspiracy theory they haven't loved. Here's the network's senior anchor Rory Suchet, quoted in Monocle magazine, while casting doubt on the 'official' version of 9/11: "You know, Adolf Hitler said if you want to make people believe something, you've got to make the lie so big that it's impossible not to believe it." If you meet him at a party it might be best to avoid talking about fluoride.
Observers have noted that nothing broadcast by the network has ever been at odds with the policies or beliefs of the Russian leadership. They are not likely to 'shirt-front' Mr Putin anytime soon. While independent voices are routinely silenced in Russia, RT toes the line, and survives. Like other networks they have a lofty yet unintentionally ironic mission statement. Fox has "Fair and Balanced" RT has "Question More".
I like that they provide a counter to the US propaganda we receive via CNN, but because much of it is clearly mad, when they do have a valid point to make about the greedy capitalist running dogs, we only hear them crying wolf.
There are other nationally sponsored news networks spreading the view of their respective regimes, Iran has Press TV, where Syrian president Bashir al-Assad is recast as a good bugger and Israel as a nasty Goliath. China too has a propaganda network in CCTV, which tends to favour Beijing over the Dali flippin' Lama. Perhaps it's just easier to see the strings at a distance. On CNN, BBC, TV One and TV3, familiarity has perhaps bred a form of glaucoma. For all the faults of Fox and RT, they serve as timely reminders that everything comes with those strings attached, and, if The Thunderbirds has taught us anything, seeing them being pulled, doesn't necessarily spoil the show.