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I Want My AJE TV!

February 1, 2011

Why don’t the majority of cable TV providers offer Al Jazeera English? If we’ve learned anything over the past week, it’s that Al Jazeera is a credible news organization. Foreign policy has never received as much attention on U.S. cable news (or network news) as domestic news and perhaps we would be a more informed electorate if we looked outside of our domestic bubble now and again?:

As director general of the region’s largest TV network, I am proud to say Al Jazeera Network has been reporting from the region’s hot spots well before they “mattered” in January 2011. From Sudan to Tunisia to Palestine to Egypt, our trademark “journalism of depth” has been on display for all who are able and care to see. Our courageous teams were long ago embedded among the populations, capturing their stories, and helping our wider audience find context and meaning to events taking place at home and half a world away.

At this moment, scores of our reporters are in Egypt to cover the unrest, which requires changing locations often, dealing with arrest/confiscation of equipment, and reporting with stealth as secret services threaten to jail them. Our journalists there fully appreciate these challenges. For years Al Jazeera has reported on how the Egyptian population is affected by economic hardship and political stagnation. Other networks may choose to focus on headline-grabbing stories simplifying extremist threats, or framing violence against human beings as merely a factor in global oil prices. Other networks, of course, have provided excellent coverage in many parts of the world. All along, Al Jazeera continued apace, offering more pedestrian, if nuanced, perspectives, even when our home region is not the topic on everyone’s minds.

No one would accuse us of failing to forecast Egypt’s boiling anger, or Tunisia’s for the matter. That’s not because our journalists are superheroes — though, if you watch, you appreciate their determination to get the story right. I would posit a simpler explanation for their successes: our journalists exist in the right places and are given the space and resources to get the job done. Most importantly, they have editorial freedom.

Even still, there are many places where we cannot do our jobs. The governments of Algeria, Morocco, Iraq, and Bahrain will not let our journalists step foot on their soil.

We were also banned in Ben Ali’s Tunisia. We overcame this through the use of social media tools like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Images of Tunisia’s uprising went from local villages to our global audience of over one hundred million viewers. I am proud to say we were not only first, we were everywhere, deploying well ahead of the tipping point, arriving to cover the demonstrators when they gathered on the Ministry of Interior — a symbol of torture and repression in most Arab countries.

Before Egypt’s street protests exploded last week we made the historic presentation of the “Palestine Papers,” an unprecedented leak of more than 1,600 records of secret negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The Papers were produced by the newly formed Al Jazeera Transparency Unit, and became a world exclusive for both our Arabic and English broadcasts. It was also a top story of our colleagues and partners at the Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom.

Through investigative and on-location journalism, our ultimate goal is to bring greater awareness, painting a more complete picture of the Middle East’s realities. Armed with more information, we believe the people of this region and further afield can make better choices to guide their lives — hopefully ones that will lead to a more peaceful and democratic future, regardless of where they live.

As I write, Egyptian President Mubarak is closing our offices and arresting our journalists. The Egyptian government has removed Al Jazeera from NileSat, the state-owned satellite carrier, delaying our ability to be found on the dial in Egypt and North Africa. We have reappeared through other carriers, while instructions on how to find us go viral across the Internet.

Elsewhere, in the United States, Al Jazeera faces a different kind of blackout, based largely on misinformed views about our content and journalism. Some of the largest American cable and satellite providers have instituted corporate obstacles against Al Jazeera English. We are on the air and on the major cable system in the nation’s capital, and some of America’s leading policymakers in Washington, D.C., have told me that Al-Jazeera English is their channel of choice for understanding global issues. But we are not available in the majority of the 50 states for much of the general public.

We believe all Americans, not just those in senior governmental positions, could benefit from having the option to watch Al-Jazeera English — or not to watch us — on their television screens.
We know the demand is there. We have seen a 2000 percent increase in hits on our English-language website, and more than 60 percent of that traffic originates in the United States. We have seen Jeff Jarvis, in the pages of the Huffington Post, make the case publicly that many are making privately. While millions of Americans have turned to the Internet and to Internet-connected-devices, many more millions should have the freedom to flip to our channel on their remotes — especially when the Middle East is on everyone’s mind.


[emphasis added]

Al Jazeera English is available in Canada, but as a result of the blackout in most of the U.S., those of us who want to watch their coverage have flocked to their website, which is better than nothing but still not good enough.

Al Jazeera’s reporting on many issues concerning the Middle East, including what’s taking place in Egypt, puts the U.S. mainstream media to shame. They have been following the unrest in Egypt since day one as the American MSM scrambled to catch up. In the first few days of the crisis, major networks were almost totally reliant on Al Jazeera and BBC for their video coverage. And then of course there is Fox News, whose coverage of Egypt has been a total joke.

There has been some good US coverage- most notably from Richard Engel of MSNBC/NBC but by and large, the corporate media seem to really not know a whole helluva lot about Egypt. How many times are Mideast experts going to have to tell Wolf Blitzer and Chris Mathews that the Muslim Brotherhood is not in any way, shape or form, connected to Al Qaeda and that in fact, they HATE each other? Jesus.

At the very least, people in the U.S. should have a choice to watch Al Jazeera English. Who knows, it might even put to bed some of the myths about the Arab world and provide a different perspective? Or maybe that’s what some people are afraid of?

If you’d like to contact your cable/satellite company regarding offering Al Jazeera English in their lineup, you can do so at this website (the site also dispels a lot of the myths about Al Jazeera).

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Steve permalink
    February 1, 2011 2:36 pm

    I’m with you! They’ve done a stellar job.

    I think it’s all political. I think the last thing in the world even some politicians want is Americans having access to a news station that provides another world view. Look at how much of the MSM gave little to no coverage to the Palestine Papers- of course they didn’t because it conflicts with their negligent reporting/framing of the issue for two decades! If people have access to more information they may start QUESTIONING things. We can’t have that!

  2. February 1, 2011 2:38 pm

    I read during the past week that Al Jazeera now has more bureaus in Latin America than either CNN or BBC do. AJ showed video a day or 2 ago of Burma’s new Parliament building. When was the last time our media showed a story of another country’s Parliament, unless a US official was visiting or there was some crisis? (Burma sadly is seemingly in a permanent state of crisis).

    This is called international journalism, something we haven’t had on TV in the US in a long time. And I for one am very happy to at least have it available on the internet!

    • February 1, 2011 2:57 pm

      Yes, you are right to point out it’s not just their coverage of the Middle East but all international coverage.

      I am thrilled to have it available on the internet but I think it’s very important to have it available on TV because it’s an access issue. For example my father, who is 80, doesn’t get his news online although he has a computer and a lot of other folks don’t get the majority of their news that way either. Or atleast it may not be their primary news source. I think having it available as part of a cable/satellite lineup would expose more average people to AJE, ie. not just foreign policy/political junkies like us.

      I think there’s a certain element of preaching to the choir with AJE readers until the Egyptian uprising- most people who went frequently to Al Jazeera online regularly were people who were/are actively seeking out more thorough, comprehensive international journalism and also people that aren’t afraid of more of a focus at times on the Arab world (and Arab point of view). It would be great to expand that audience because AJ broaches subjects the US mainstream media simply doesn’t. The Palestine Papers are a perfect example. Why do you think AJE teamed up with the Guardian to publish them? Do you think the NYT or WaPo would EVER publish something like that? I doubt it. As it is Julian Assange said he has thousands of documents on Israel that the US media refused to publish/cover as part of their WikiLeaks exposes. Go figure. That kind of viewpoint filtering is not journalism, it’s propaganda.

  3. Carolyn-Rodham permalink
    February 1, 2011 5:15 pm

    May I add that not only is your commentary first rate but you come up with the most clever headlines!

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