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Years ago when I learned that 10 percent of youths in the United States got their news from The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, I immediately laughed it away. However, since then, I have spent countless late evenings watching that talk show and others to relax at the end of a busy day.
The Daily Show on Comedy Central is not just funny, but often witty and can indeed be newsy sometimes. On Valentine's Day, Stewart mocked CNN for its obsession in covering the Carnival cruise ship Triumph, which was stranded in the Gulf of Mexico carrying 4,200 passengers, while ignoring important news like the 12th summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Cairo. Representatives from 56 Islamic countries were meeting there to discuss a host of thorny issues facing the region and the world, from Syria, Mali to Israeli settlements in Palestine.
I am not sure if Comedy Central, in its usual humorous fashion, is the only American television channel that paid any attention to the meeting, despite the huge issues that divide the US and the Muslim world.
The fact that important news is not covered or not covered properly is nothing new. Just hours before US President Barack Obama's State of the Union address on Feb 12, major news channels including CNN focused on the hunting down of Christopher Dorner, a US Navy veteran and former Los Angeles Police Department officer who had declared war on the LAPD. Dorner was killed that day during a standoff near Big Bear Mountain outside San Bernadino, California.
Both the saga of the stranded cruise ship and the chase for Dorner are worth covering, but they do not deserve to be covered to the exclusion of everything else.
It is no wonder even Hillary Clinton praised Al Jazeera while testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in March 2011.
"Viewership of Al Jazeera is going up in the United States because it's real news. You may not agree with it, but you feel like you're getting real news around the clock instead of a million commercials and, you know, arguments between talking heads and the kind of stuff that we do on our news, which, you know, is not particularly informative to us, let alone foreigners," said Clinton, who stepped down as secretary of state on Feb 1.
Indeed, if you tune in to non-US channels in the US these days, such as the BBC, China Central Television, Russia Today and France 24, you feel far more informed about the rest of the world than you do watching major US cable news networks. News in much of Latin America, Africa and Asia rarely makes it onto these US channels, whose only concern is ratings.
To many Americans who are obsessed with a Hollywood style of news reporting, with several not-so-knowledgeable talking heads spinning the news, the traditional way of straight news reporting found on many foreign TV channels may look outdated. That is a huge challenge for foreign news channels, including Al Jazeera America, which is to make its debut after last month's purchase of Current TV.
Despite the misunderstanding among some Americans that Al Jazeera, with its Arabic name, could be related to Osama bin Laden or terrorism, a bigger challenge is for Al Jazeera and other foreign channels to get people in the world's superpower interested in international news. That apathy to world news is no secret. While Time magazine's Asia and Europe editions carry covers featuring the "Arab Spring" to Aung San Suu Kyi, its US edition has covers about marriage or pop psychology.
Polls sponsored by Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs last October showed voters in Ohio and Florida are interested in foreign policy, but many lack knowledge in the area.
One solution is clearly for them to tune in to foreign news channels or even The Daily Show with John Stewart.
The author, based in Washington, is deputy editor of China Daily US edition. E-mail: email@example.com
(China Daily 02/22/2013 page8)