Monday, May 23, 2011

Bring back Al-Jazeera English on cable


Firstly, I wish to congratulate you on your recent appointment as Minister for Information, Communication & the Arts. Your appointment could not have been more timely and I am sure we will see certain changes in the way the desires of viewers, readers and listeners are managed. Insyallah.

Secondly, I write to request that the Al-Jazeera English channel be allowed to be carried over our cable television channels. This channel used to be carried by Singtel Mio TV but the plug was pulled on it last year with insufficient justification.

At least one viewer has suggested, “Perhaps Al Jazeera has rattled the nerves of the ruling elite with a host of programs scrutinizing the socio-economic problems in Singapore, more so than any other news channel (including the venerable BBC World News).”

Singapore is the only country in our immediate neighbourhood that does not have this channel. Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia all carry this channel. Unfortunately, this unavailability of the channel is a damning testament of our commitment to access to current information.

As a person who travels to these countries often, I find the information Al-Jazeera shares insightful. It clearly provides a different perspective to developments in the world. As a premier Middle East channel, it also gives one unprecedented access to the Muslim world. I am sure as the Minister also responsible for Muslim affairs, you of all persons should appreciate the importance and value of such access.

If I want to watch this channel on the television in Singapore, the only way for me to do so is through an Internet connection to my television. This is not hassle-free and the feed is grainy.

I have tried to engage our cable providers about making this channel available, only to be told that the broadcast of this channel was not palatable to your predecessor. If this is true, your predecessor’s position does no justice to the viewing population in Singapore.

Let me give you an example of a recent incident to underscore this. At the press conference to announce his new cabinet line-up, the Prime Minister was asked if Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam had plans to be the next chief of the International Monetary Fund. The Prime Minister denied knowledge of this and laughed it off. Now, if the Prime Minister could watch Al-Jazeera as an ordinary viewer here, he would know that Al-Jazeera had named his deputy as a leading Asian contender for the position.

I hope you will allow our cable providers to bring back Al-Jazeera to Singapore. Viewers in Singapore should not be denied access to this source of information.

Dharmendra Yadav

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