If you haven’t been watching Al Jazeera yet and are following the continuing unrest in Egypt, you should give it a try. The network has arguably done the best job at covering all angles of the crisis, and its commanding presence in the Middle East has given it a leg up on other outlets.
Watching it myself, it feels very BBC: news presented in a intellectually stimulating manner, something often missing in American television journalism today.
The network reports that traffic to its English-language site since the start of the crisis has surged by 2,500%, with 60% of that traffic coming from the US. Many are apparently tuning into the live stream.
Why’s this? Simply put, cable companies have practically all but shut out the network since its debut in 2006. Al Jazeera no doubt got a rap for being a outlet for Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda — the terrorist group sent its videos regularly as “exclusives” in the days after 9/11 — but since then the network has done a lot to polish its image as a legitimate news outlet.
Cable companies, whether it be for political reasons or otherwise, now refuse to bring the English-language version of the network here. In Canada, it took a effort by Al Jazeera English and supporters there to have the government mandate the channel be carried: Regulators there have much more power in forcing the hands of cable providers.
Here, not so much. However, with the new troubles in the Middle East, there seems to be a new push. Journalism professor and TV critic Jeff Jarvis has started a campaign via Twitter (see #wewantouraje) which appears to have struck a chord.
The network itself is going public as well. Al Jazeera director Wadah Khanfar has taken to the Huffington Post to plead its case. “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,” he wrote.
“We believe all Americans…could benefit from having the option to watch Al-Jazeera English–or not to watch us–on their television screens.” Read the rest of it. Very solid argument.
So what’s the response from our top three cable providers? Not much really. Comcast wouldn’t speculate whether carrying AJE would be a possibility. “We regularly examine our channel lineups and talk with a wide range of programmers to ensure that we are bringing the content that our customers want the most,” spokesperson Alana Davis told me.
Hmm. That sounds like if MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News don’t want AJE, then you wouldn’t get it on Comcast, does it not? With the network now having a controlling interest in MSNBC, a news network … well, I don’t even need to continue.
Time Warner didn’t respond to my inquiry. Coxspokesperson David Deliman said that the company considers whether a network adds value in its programming decisions. “Cox bases its decision on the existing channel lineup, terms and conditions of carriage, programming requests that we receive and our desire to offer diverse programming choices to meet the varied interests of our customers,” he says.
But since the Middle East is such a focal point in world politics, wouldn’t carrying AJE offer tremendous value to cable subscribers? I would certainly think so. If cable companies are serious about diversity in programming, then Al Jazeera should be a natural choice in every lineup. Let Americans choose on their own not to watch.