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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Internet Video on-demand can side-step mainstream media bias

Online video offers Arab Americans chance to circumvent mainstream media biases
(with two sidebars: technology in layman's terms and examples of viode content online)

(Permission granted to republish.)
By Ray Hanania

From the very moment they first set foot on American soil in the mid-19th Century, Arab immigrants have engaged in a never-ending battle to force the mainstream news media to provide balanced and fair coverage of Middle East events and issues.

Most of the focus has been on changing the print media, which for years dominated the news media. Today, though, as Arab Americans make some advances in the print media, the battle has shifted to the electronic media, mainly television.

Surveys show most Americans get their understanding of the Middle East and the Arab and Muslim Worlds from television news and feature broadcasts. Mainstream American TV is filled with one-sided images and negative stereotypes of the Arab world that TV stations rarely allow to be challenged.

If there is a bias against Arabs in American newspapers, mainly on the Op-Ed pages that define American public opinion, the broadcast media is beyond "biased" and is almost exclusively one-sided.

But the Internet is helping to change that. Thanks to policy changes by the Internet's major portals, for the first time Arab Americans have the opportunity to produce broadcast quality programs at minimal costs that can easily be seen by average Americans.

An Internet video depicting the Palestinian cause accurately and with an unbiased perspective has the potential now to be seen by more Americans than those who watch the highest rated TV news programs that routinely censor news critical of Israel.

Earlier this year, online web portals implemented new policies to allow anyone to upload limited sized video files to its web servers at no cost. The only prohibition is on the theft of copyright materials and on pornography. Some of the more popular web hosts that started this are MySpace, YouTube and Google.

But Google went one step further by lifting the limit on the size of the video files. Yahoo, for example, imposes a limit of 100 MB on all video submissions, which means the largest a video on Google might be is about 2-5 minutes -- depending on compression techniques used. Limits also exist for and, other popular viewer created video sites.

But, as a result, independent journalists, filmmakers, and activists can now place their video reports on the Google Web Page without being charged for transfer size or bandwidth.

Google makes money on the principle of "traffic." The more people who visit Google to see your video the more that are also exposed to video content that Google offers on a pay-per-view basis. It's rising stock shows the plan is working.

Slowly, programs of substance offering lengthy reporting and video footage of actual events that present the Arab and Palestinian cause in a more accurate and favorable light are making their way to the Internet and to the mainstream American public.

While a picture may be worth a thousand words, a video has the power of a million pictures.For the first time, Americans who only see and hear one side of the story in biased and imbalanced news reporting and coverage on commercial and cable TV can now get "the other side of the story" simply by connecting to online video content using their home computers.

The bottom line is that Arab Americans who don't like what they see on television, can now buy an inexpensive, high quality camera (between $600 for a commercial SONY and $2,400 for movie-like digital video), and produce their own video shows using inexpensive editing software on your home computer.

Arab Americans can place their video programs online for free so that tens, hundreds, thousands and even maybe millions of Americans can view it for free.

There are many places now on the Internet where videotape of regional or obscure cable TV shows can be posted or viewed at no charge. One of the more popular is Google Video which lifted the size limit on video files earlier this year.

A search of Google Video listed 473 videos referencing "Palestine," 545 referencing "Palestinian" and 588 referencing "Arab." Most of the video selections offer content that is clearly more balanced than what one might watch on commercial or cable TV programs.

Some content offers raw footage of the harsh realities of living under the Israeli occupation such as the 48 minute video "Tobias - Life in Palestine" produced by an unnamed Palestinian living in the West bank who brought together everyday scenes of live in the occupation.

Another 5 minute video called "Before and After" seeks to show viewers how Israel has damaged and destroyed Arab localities during the 39 year occupation.

Other content includes less serious topics such as humor and music including "rap music" songs with no social message other than being entertainment.

Still more are the video programs of Arab Americans who have been struggling to get their voices heard through the limiting offering of local Cable TV and public access channels.

One of the most ambitious cable TV shows that is now available online is hosted by Palestinian American activist Hesham Tillawi. Tillawi's show "Current Issues" is broadcast in Lafayette, LA on Cox Cable. He soon began streaming the show live on the Internet - which means you could view the show as it was being taped. Since the beginning of the year, Tillawi has been placing completed shows on Google that can be viewed by anyone at any time.

Tillawi says the Internet has given him a freedom not just from the biases of the mainstream American media, but also from censorship in the Arab and Muslim community.

"Current Issues" was being broadcast on Bridges TV, the Muslim Cable TV Channel until Bridges TV officials said some mainstream Cable Companies and some viewers complained about his hard-hitting pro-Palestinian content. Bridges dropped the show last month and has refused to comment on the change or the reasons.

You will also find programs produced by LINK TV like Mosaic, and the Charlie Rose show. Others include long and short videos of pro-Palestinian protests in LA, a speech by Hanan Ashrawi in San Diego, and a six minute video produced by "Jews for Global Justice" that argues "The US Government Uses Your Tax dollars to kill Palestinian children."

Some online videos are available only if you pay a small fee and licensed in an arrangement with Google, including by Getty Images which offers a wide selection of stock video footage from Palestine and Arab East Jerusalem.

The fact that Google is one of the most popular Internet resources also makes this new trend significant. Hundreds of millions of Google users are now automatically exposed to the availability of these programs when they use search words that include Palestine, Arab, occupation and more

That kind of free market access is what will give the Arab and Palestinian voices, which are silenced in the mainstream American news media, a new power to reach the American public.

(Ray Hanania is a veteran journalist and author of the book "Arabs of Chicagoland." Hanania produces videos documentaries and shows that are available on the web page

Technology in layman's terms

Service providers assess costs in two ways. They charge you to store your files on your web page. The more important charge that for years limited the availability of video is based on transferring (downloading and uploading) a file. That movement from one computer to another is called "bandwidth."

Until recently, costs have been prohibitive. You are charged based on the "size" of files that move back and forth on the Internet. The smaller the file the less costly. The larger the file the more costly. Video files are the largest.

Internet content is measured in Kilobytes (KB) Megabytes (MB) and more recently in Gigabytes (GB). It is like weighing something in ounces, pounds and tons.

A text file, such as a Word document or an email message, may be a few kilobytes (KB). It can be transferred from a home computer through the Internet to someone else's computer at negligible cost.

Picture files and high quality images are larger, usually measured in Megabytes (MB). Video files, on the other hand, are measured in Gigabytes (GB). A 30-minute, high quality video can easily exceed several Gigabytes (GB).

If you have a web page, typically, you would get 5 to 10 Gigabytes of storage space, and 200 Gigabytes of free transfer (uploading and downloading.)

The meter runs Each time someone views your files. If you place a 30 minute video on your web page that is 1 Gigabyte (GB) in size, for example, only 200 people can view it before your web host starts charging you additional money.

More Video selections online:

"Stop Killing Peace" June 2006, speech by Cindy Corrie, Rachel Corrie's mother (13 Minutes).

"Palestine Cultural Center," 2002, by Dima Ramaha on a camp for Palestinian children (10 Minutes)

"Intifada Slideshow," June 17, 2006, by Hamam Farah. (5 minutes).

"Wall Protest at Bil'in," April 2006, video clip of the weekly protest there against the Apartheid Wall. (24 Seconds).

"Drive through Downtown Jericho," Nov. 24, 2005, (2 Minutes)

"Apartheid Wall," June 2006, near Abu Dis, (8 Minutes).

"Who's the Terrorist," June 13, 2006, Palestinian hip hop music by Meen Erhabe, (4 Minutes).

"Alison Weir with Hesham Tillawi," June 5, 2006, Current Issues Cable TV online, (56 Minutes).

"Life in the Promised Land of Palestine," protests and killings, March 2006, (43 Minutes).

"Ping Pong Revenge: Israel and Palestine Slapstick Comedy," humorous musical, Jan. 13, 2006, (3 Minutes).

"A visit to Jenin: Interview on Jenin Massacre," with Gov. Qadura Mousa, April 28, 2006, Cable TV Interview hosted by Ray Hanania, (32 Minutes).

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