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Sad day in DC: international news channels go dark

By Chen Weihua in Washington | | Updated: 2018-04-02 06:02

People in Washington DC who watch international news channels may have felt a pang of loss this past weekend as these channels simply disappeared from their cable.

On March 31, MHz Networks ended its broadcast and cable distribution — literally terminated — channels such as RT, CGTN, TRT, France 24, Arirang, Telesur, DW-TV and Africa Today TV.

While MHz Networks described it as an economic decision, rather than a political one, the timing coincides with fear-mongering in the US of international news organizations, such as those from Russia, China and the Middle East.

It may well be true that MHz Networks' decision was purely economic, rather than in response to pressure from the Justice Department or Capitol Hill, since some of the channels switched off, such as France 24 and DW-TV, are from US allies.

The rise of international news in the US makes a lot of sense. Major US cable networks, such as CNN, MSNBC and Fox News, do not cover much international news, unless there is a major crisis.

News about Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria, where US invasion or intervention is an ongoing story, is basically absent from the three US cable networks, yet available on international news channels.

It's hard to recall the last time that CNN, MSNBC or Fox News reported on US drone strikes, which have been escalated under US President Donald Trump and caused more civilian deaths.

There was a nearly 50 percent rise in drone attacks in Iraq and Syria, while civilian deaths rose roughly 215 percent, from 2016 to 2017, according to UK-registered Airwars, a watchdog group that monitors military drone strikes.

Such news is only available on international news channels, not on major US TV networks, which are obsessed with covering stories like Stormy Daniels' relationship with Trump.

Besides covering a wide range of global news, international news channels, whether from Russia, China or the Middle East or US allies in Europe, also bring a unique and valuable perspective.

The knowledge average Americans have about the world is worrisome, especially given the status of the US as the world's only superpower. A survey commissioned by the Council on Foreign Relations and National Geographic in 2016 sounded the alarm, as just 29 percent of the 1,203 respondents aged 18 to 26 earned a minimal pass of 66 percent or better correct.

In the survey, only 25 percent knew China had veto power at the United Nations Security Council; 29 percent knew Russia did, 34 percent knew about France, 43 percent about the UK and 51 percent about their own country.

The shuttering of international news channels clearly is not going to help change this situation. And the fact that this happened in Washington, DC, is especially disturbing because the district is the center of US decision making regarding the rest of the world, whether in the executive branch departments or Congress.

With less access to information and views from around the world, it will be harder to get a realistic picture of situations and make informed and intelligent decisions.

It's as if you only watch CNN and MSNBC but not Fox News — or only Fox News but not CNN and MSNBC — you are likely to see only half of the perspectives on US domestic issues.

On global issues, if you only watch US domestic channels and not international news channels, you probably won't be able to see even a quarter of a much more complex picture.

MHz's decision came at a time that some politicians have been increasingly demonizing news media from Russia, China and the Middle East by reviving the vague and outdated Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938 targeting government-funded foreign news outlets.

Such a move would only deprive Americans of access to a wealth of valuable information and views from the rest of the world.

Not only this is not a path toward Making America Great Again, it is against the principles of democracy and freedom of the press the US preaches at home and abroad.

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