Letters to the Editor
May 21, 2008
I write in response to Ken Picard’s piece, “Burlington Telecom to Dump Al Jazeera” [“Local Matters,” May 7]. The short article does not do justice to the issue at hand and grossly misrepresents the content of Al Jazeera English.
It is unfortunate that Al Jazeera English will no longer be available to Burlington residents. As a regular viewer (and a journalism professor), I have enjoyed this network, which I find to be as objective as CNN and BBC and more factual than FOX. Chris Burns, the managing director of Burlington Telecom, made this decision without consulting citizens — a decision, I believe, that was political.
Your article quotes Paul Laffal and Jeffrey Kaufman of the Israel Center of Vermont stating that Al Jazeera was “hate speech insidiously presented as news.” Interestingly, most people in Israel disagree; Al Jazeera is widely available and avidly watched in Israel.
Burlington Telecom joins the ranks of Comcast and Time Warner in suppressing free access to information.
I recently upgraded my Burlington Telecom subscription package in order to get Al Jazeera, as a way of having access to a broader perspective of viewpoints from the network news and documentary channels.
Two years ago, I moved from England and became a U.S. and Vermont resident. One aspect that attracted me to this country was the constitutional right to freedom of speech and information that I had always thought was as fundamental to it as the right to breathe the air and drink the water.
I was particularly disappointed that some of the main objectors appear to be members of the Israel Center of Vermont [“Burlington Telecom to Dump Al Jazeera,” May 7]. I was born and raised in Israel and certainly do not find Al Jazeera’s bias harmful to the existence of the State of Israel. Indeed, far more harmful to Israel, I believe, is a demand from some Americans to stifle debate and to only allow the expression of opinions which are agreeable to them. If these are friends of Israel, who needs enemies?
I am urging Chris Burns and his colleagues at BT to provide as many diverse channels as possible. That is the only way to build a well-informed community that can listen and watch and then form their own opinions.
AN ALTERNATIVE BIAS
I can’t help but think that Burlington Telecom is making a mistake [“Burlington Telecom to Dump Al Jazeera,” May 7]. Although Al Jazeera does have its biases, so does most every news outlet in the world, including our American stations, most notably FOX News.
Also, let’s say “dozens” of complaints were received. That means about 1 percent of customers are unhappy, and 99 percent of customers are content and maybe even happy. However, Burlington Telecom is treating this as though they had to fold under pressure. I would be curious to see the statistics of how many Burlington Telecom customers are disappointed with the drop.
Al Jazeera is not evil. It simply provides an alternative perspective in news. Diversity of perspectives in the news only helps viewers to be able to decide for themselves how to feel about an issue. Then again, maybe we should burn all Middle Eastern books, too, just to be on the safe side.
Contrary to the remarks of Ken Boyd [Letters, May 14], “average citizens” are delighted to have Al Jazeera English in our community on Burlington Telecom.
In fact, many of us “average citizens” deliberately chose Burlington Telecom because it does offer Al Jazeera, which gives some of the best coverage of international news and issues in the world. It is also largely available in other democracies, including Israel.
In the vast ethnocentric, unfair and unbalanced wasteland of American broadcast television, Al Jazeera offers a uniquely in-depth, informed and intelligent view of the world which gives citizens real knowledge and information to make important decisions about the future of the planet.
“Average citizens” in Burlington, too, are fiercely opposed to the kind of censorship of the press that fueled the unilateral decision to keep Al Jazeera off the air and out of our view.
Those who engaged in this secretive fight against freedom of the press should be aware that the informed citizens of Burlington will not tolerate attacks on their constitutional liberties to make their own decisions about what they see, hear and understand.
Burlington Telecom has dumped Al Jazeera [“Local Matters,” May 7]. Is this a big deal? After all, all that station has to offer is news in a regional and global context, illumination of complex issues and reporting on topics that perhaps some would rather keep hidden.
The suggestion that pressure from Paul Laffal and Jeffrey Kaufman of the Israel Center of Vermont lead to the decision brings shame to all us Jews who were taught to be attentive to the surreptitious disenfranchisement of any ethnic group and to the silencing of voices by those who claim the right to bind and gag the innocent.
Well, I have a message to Kaufman and Laffal and the cable-broadcasting surrender-monkey Burlington Telecom: Nie Wieder. We are Americans first and we welcome dissent and extreme views, even as we welcome rational discourse, even if the crazed views are from Falwell, Limbaugh, McCain’s pastor Hagee, or even the extreme political views of the Israel Center — even as they fight to deny the power of the First Amendment of our sacred Constitution.
But to silence Arab voices and demonize Arabs as third-rate intellects is to invite the first steps towards ethnic cleansing. As Chris Burns signed the order to cancel Al Jazeera, six million voices cried from the grave: “Nie Wieder.”
VIVA LA RICH
Nothing like a little class warfare to go with your accordion [Stuck in Vermont #68, May 7].
You featured a funny and obviously talented group of musicians. But I was struck by some of the language used by the group’s members regarding the “rich.” I’m guessing, since this is a target that is politically correct to attack, no one batted an eye, but I’m curious if similar language used about other groups would be tolerated by your fine newspaper.
I think it’s important to remember that this type of blanket stereotyping is not helpful, regardless if it’s directed at gays, the rich, welfare moms, Mexicans, etc. I’d encourage the members of Inner Fire District to learn a little more about what “the rich” do for our community, including paying taxes that pay for their beloved fire department. Oh yeah, and advertise in Seven Days, too.
RHYMES WITH CRIME
While I admire Jay Parini for formulating a constructive response to punishment for the teens who vandalized Robert Frost’s home [“Frost Scholar to School Vandals in Creative Sentences,” May 14], I have to wonder: Can teaching the poetry of one of our most famous poet laureates counteract the basic mindset that allows our privileged youth to do $10,000 in damage to a home — any home?
One of the students said, “If classes at school had taught me more about our surroundings and Frost’s role, I don’t think things would have gotten to this point.” So by learning about Robert Frost, the poet, you then would be careful not to vandalize his house, but maybe someone else’s house. Joe Smith, down the block, would be okay?
Frankly, I think these “good kids” need a lesson in something else, in addition to poetry, like basic common decency and respect for the property and lives of the other beings who inhabit the planet with them.
In last week’s Seven Days, Pike Porter incorrectly stated, “Landlords who, with good intentions (but unwisely), enrolled their properties in the lead abatement program now need to rent to families with children under six years of age” [Letters, May 14].
This is simply not true. Since we are obligated to direct our federal funds to protect those who are most at risk for lead poisoning, we simply ask landlords to make a good-faith effort to market their apartments to families with children under age 6.
Despite Porter’s assertion to the contrary, reducing lead paint hazards often relieves landlords’ liability concerns about renting to families with young children, thereby opening up more housing to one group most hurt by housing discrimination. We make our requirements known up front, and landlords are not misled about our program after the fact.
We strongly disagree that participation in the Lead Program is “unwise.” The Burlington Lead Program provides free testing, free specification development and free project management and oversight. Enrolling in the program also greatly decreases owner liability from child lead poisonings.
The Burlington Lead Program finances projects with grants and zero percent deferred loans. These can be free to Section 8 landlords and mostly free for other rental property owners, usually to replace hazardous windows and repaint flaking exteriors, requiring repayment only when the property is sold.
We feel that taking advantage of these services and benefits to landlords and the entire community is in fact a wise choice.
Tanguay is coordinator of the Burlington Lead Program.