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Editorial: No reason to fear Al Jazeera English

Crisis draws attention to channel’s U.S. exclusion

Published: Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Updated: Tuesday, February 1, 2011 00:02

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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.

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Sat Feb 5 2011 19:26
"The most well rounded among us are those who watch a good cross section of information sources, including FoxNews, Al Jazeera, CNN, PBS etc.... a little Rachel Maddow and Rush Limbaugh are good too.. "

What a joke. Rush Limbaugh? Please, you destroyed any credibility in your comment when you listed him (as if Fox News wasn't bad enough). Just add Glenn Beck to your list and you've really got the kings of converative propaganda. The problem with Fox News is that it isn't news... it's propaganda and flat out lies. A perfect example is their take on the Muslim Brotherhood. Just because it has 'Muslim' in the name it's immediately a terrorist group. In actuality, they are a peaceful community that do not want anything to do with controlling the government. Not to say that MSNBC or CNN don't have their own biases, but there is no way you can deny that Fox News consistently lies, misinforms, and twists facts to further their own agendas.

Fri Feb 4 2011 09:54
From the comments I read, some of you seem to have quite a bit of spite for FoxNews, and think that Al Jazeera might be more your speed... Sounds to me like there might be a wee bit of tendency for some censorship and thought bashing on your side too!... It is time to calm down and just admit that everyone does not think the same way. The most well rounded among us are those who watch a good cross section of information sources, including FoxNews, Al Jazeera, CNN, PBS etc.... a little Rachel Maddow and Rush Limbaugh are good too.. Not just CNN, NPR and MSNBC.. If you limit yourself to that, then you shut out half of American thought.. That would be biggotted and narrow minded, would it not? We need to understand the WHOLE of our society, not just our own narrow little ivory tower corner. There are good, even great ideas on all sides if you just open you mind to all ideas.
Tue Feb 1 2011 14:24
I think people are shortsighted in thinking that Al Jazeera English is anti-American. Even if it is, that doesn't mean that by simply watching it I am subscribing to all their believes and opinions, I would be watching it as part of a larger effort to learn and understand what is going on in Egypt. Many people seem to think that by reading a certain writer or watching a certain channel or listening to a certain radio host, that it means that that person believes everything being said. Maybe I'm just challenging my assumptions. Instead it seems that most people like to just keep watching what they agree with and reinforces their believes.
Tue Feb 1 2011 12:34
It's the same reason conservatives suddenly became so unbelievably spiteful of NPR/PBS. It provides Americans consistent access to the BBC World Service. God forbid we see the news from the world's perspective instead of a little fearful corner.
Tue Feb 1 2011 08:08
I don't think the biases of Fox News and the Drudge Report represents well the perspective of television service providers. I note a contradiction when the author wrote: "'s not market forces... it's partially due to the fact that corporations and people have trouble accepting..." The fact that people will not accept and therefore would not watch Al Jazeera means market forces are at play. While I agree Al Jazeera's foreign origin may contribute to a lack of support by American viewers and providers, I also think that the majority of Americans have shown that measured and insightful coverage is not what there looking for, which they have demonstrated in their alleigences to Fox News and MSNBC.

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