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Should Burlington Pull the Plug on Al-Jazeera? - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Should Burlington Pull the Plug on Al-Jazeera?

Jamie Zeppernick Jamie Zeppernick
Rep. Bill Aswad Rep. Bill Aswad

Burlington, Vermont - May 27, 2008

24-hour, around-the-clock cable news-- nothing new to most Vermonters-- but some say there is one channel on the airways they just won't tolerate. It's a station they blame for the deaths of American servicemen and servicewomen around the globe: Al-Jazeera.

"It does incite murder. It incites hatred and it incites violence," said Jamie Zeppernick of the Defenders Council of Vermont.

City-owned Burlington Telecom offers Al-Jazeera's English news network to a small number of customers in the city. The company was planning to drop the cable network from its lineup after receiving several complaints from customers.

"I believe it's a slap in the face to both the Jewish population of Burlington as well as present and veteran soldiers families in the Iraq conflict," said Steve Flemer of Burlington.

Mayor Bob Kiss, P-Burlington, placed that decision on hold-- wanting further input from two advisory committees. Those two committees met Tuesday afternoon. More than 30 citizens weighed in on the debate. Some say removing the programming would violate First Amendment rights to free speech.

"Al-Jazeera is an opportunity for us to learn more. But if anyone doesn't want to learn more-- there's a simple solution-- they can switch to a different channel," Rep. Bill Aswad, D-Burlington.

Zeppernick says this is not about the First Amendment: "Individuals have the right to say whatever they want. They do not have the right to be heard."

Ultimately the mayor and Burlington Telecom will have the final say on whether to get rid of Al-Jazeera, but not until after receiving more input from citizens.

These committees did decide to hold another public forum sometime within the next three weeks to get more public input because of that large turnout.

It costs about $18 more than a standard package to get Al-Jazeera, but we should point out that the city receives it free of charge from Al-Jazeera. And Burlington is only one of two city-owned cable providers in the country to offer Al-Jazeera news.

Keagan Harsha - WCAX News

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