Editorial: No reason to fear Al Jazeera English
Crisis draws attention to channel’s U.S. exclusion
Published: Tuesday, February 1, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 15:02
As the world's eyes turn to the turmoil in Egypt, a rising number of them are turning not to CNN, Fox News, MSNBC or other American news networks, but instead to Al Jazeera English, the Qatar-based channel.
This is largely due to the network's established infrastructure in the region, as well as its previous experience covering Egypt in depth.
In the United States, although The New York Times reports that the White House is using the channel to monitor the situation in the region, the vast majority of U.S. homes are unable to watch the network, because cable and satellite companies have refused its request to be carried.
Only a select few locales - Washington D.C., Burlington, Vt. and Toledo, Ohio - have full access to the channel. Yet, traffic to the channel's English-language website has increased 2,500 percent since Friday, according to the channel's managing director, and Americans comprise more than half of those viewing live-streams of the channel.
The problem with the exclusion of Al Jazeera English from providers' lineups is that it's not market forces, i.e. a lack of demand, that have warranted these corporate decisions. Instead, it's partially due to the fact that corporations and people have trouble accepting something with a name like "Al Jazeera." The channel was frequently panned during the Bush Administration. And just four days ago, Fox News host Bill O'Reilly referred to the channel as "anti-America." Unfortunately, these and similar bashings are more playing to a certain audience than substance-based.
America should be far beyond the point where that is considered a valid reason.
Al Jazeera is hardly a mouthpiece for the Arabic world. Although backed by the government of Qatar, the government's approach is as hands-on as the U.S. government's approach to NPR is.
It's time for people and corporations to get past stereotypes and paranoia, and for the channel to have a legitimate chance to become more widespread in our country. Live-streams can only offer so much exposure, which is regrettable, as the general public is still likely confused with the chaos in the Middle Eastern nation.
The American public can benefit from an additional viewpoint, as it's easy to fall into the notion of thinking that if you've heard the conservative and liberal arguments, you've heard them all. Restriction of international exposure for no rational reason isn't helping matters.
And times may changing. The conservative news-aggregator The Drudge Report, which according to The Vancouver Sun said during the channel's 2006 launch that it would promote anti-American sentiment, linked to its live-stream on Monday. And the channel's place of honor in the West Wing speaks a great deal about where the best reporting on the situation in Egypt is coming from.
The major satellite and cable companies have every right to determine their own lineup. But the possibility of including Al Jazeera English deserves an honest discussion, one devoid of partisan grandstanding and the corporate desire to appeal to the lowest common denominator. The American public should support an inclusive, informative lineup. No matter how that's spelled.