Sunday, 1 April 2012

Long Live Al Jazeera

Thousands in US turn out for 'Reason Rally'
The day of the Reason Rally I had to work.  Like so many others, I really wanted to be there.  Luckily, or so I thought, I work in the computer industry. I have near constant access to the Internet.  And so sitting in a cafe at 9 in the morning on the 24th I began to scour the major US and Canadian news networks for a video stream, live or otherwise of the event.

Surely a beastly hoard of 20,000 atheists descending onto the National Mall in Washington; the most famous atheist in the world Richard DawkinsTim Minchin and Eddie IzzardAdam Savage of Mythbusters (aka Let's Blow Stuff Up For Science) fame; Bill Maher (video message only); the ever-controversial gay-hating Westboro Baptist Church(!) and many others would be a spectacle worthy of some news coverage. I've seen stuff of much less import make the first page of on a Saturday morning!

With I with a groan shared with thousands of other non-theists who could not make it to our moment to shine, I realized I was wrong.

I first checked CNN and found nothing on their first page, or even buried in their Americas section.  All I find is non-live coverage.  A couple of already stale morsels about what the event is billed to be: here and here.  These bits are all not real journalism, per se, but rather entries in their perhaps more easily disown-able Religion Blog.  Although these were somewhat hidden away, they received thousands of comments - many rather negative.

All the rest of the coverage I found was reader-driven iReports from readers with their own cameras and phones; a sort of parallel user-driven news outlet similar to video blogs.  In short: no professional coverage from CNN.

I checked ABC and NBC as well and found nothing at all.  Nothing on C-SPAN either, which was a a big surprise because frankly, their usual fare is not all that riveting.   I thought they'd jump at covering something like this.

Maybe Canadian broadcasters?  No. Silence.

Fox News responded it its typical way with Why the Reason Rally is unreasonable and
Rally for Nothing in Particular.  There was a one fair and balanced nod to our side in Reason Rally is Coming Out Party for Secular Movement.

To its credit, the local DC Fox affiliate did have a video report but I doubt they could have ever ignored it completely: Atheists Hold Reason Rally on the National Mall.  Although this is pittance, it's still something rather than nothing. Kudos to the local station.

But in effect, the largest gathering of atheists/secularists in North America ever was left to its own devices when it came to coverage.  I was forced to watch live streams coming from people's smartphones.  In the comments sections of these smartphone streams I would see words of thanks from people as far away as Europe.

Maybe I'm too absorbed into the movement and this isn't anything remarkable or newsworthy.  Or maybe the rest of America, including the mass media just decided to ignore the whole thing so we'd all shut up and go away.  I lack the perspective and knowledge to know for sure - perhaps a little of both?

I wasn't the only one to be surprised by this.  I think this was a common reaction among many Freethinkers.  You can read up on this here and all over the forums and blogs. 

Al Jazeera to the Rescue
Then I heard that Al Jazeera English had actual professional video coverage of the event.  And to my surprise and delight they had a well-balanced, factually correct story on the event here.  Why is this?  Why did I need to rely on a foreign news agency, in the Middle East of all places, to both acknowledge and then objectively cover this event?

Thousands in US turn out for 'Reason Rally'Atheists, secularists and humanists in Washington demanded a bigger place in public life.

Compare that coverage with any of the coverage in the States.

On Youtube, on the blogosphere and podsphere (our underground alternate media) I hear jubilant interviews with attendees of the rally.  They often speak about how they've shown America that there are many people who do not believe in a god.  Or something to that effect.  I too am jubilant and recharged by this event - I don't mean to take wind from our sails.

March on Washington for Jobs
and Freedom (1963) could not
be ignored.
But I think I speak the sad realisation of many here.  This was effectively a media gag, and much of the little stale crumbs of media I did find seemed to minimize or distort the size and meaning of the rally.  I have no doubt that the message has been sent loud and clear to freethinkers all over the world that they are not alone.  This is exciting and worthwhile on it's own.  But I wonder if any useful message ever made it out to the rest of America - the ones who get their news every evening from ABC, NBC and CNN.

Hello, is there anybody out there?

Perhaps the pivotal moment in the civil rights movement was the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.  In 1963 an estimated 200,000 - 300,000 people descended on the National Mall.  This is ten times the number on March 24.  The Internet can act as a powerful amplifier - we may not need so many people - but we still have much more work to do.  I have work to do and I will be at the next Reason Rally.

Alexander An
Back in February I posted about the detained atheist Alexander An: Save Alexandre Aan.  While researching for this post, for the first time I found video news coverage of this violation of human rights.  It wasn't an American news agency.  It was once again Al Jazeera.  I have no idea what happened to him since then.

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