Thursday, February 3, 2011

Finding A Place For Al Jazeera

Chaos has erupted in Egypt this week as protests calling for the removal of the president Hosni Mubarak turned violent. I do not mean to say that the conflict is as simple as pro or anti government groups, I know it is a complex issue. But as a disclaimer, I'm not a political writer, or an international relations writer.

The reason I bring up the conflict in Egypt is because I read a very interesting opinion piece on Al Jazeera English: US viewers seek Al Jazeera Coverage which says that the conflict in Egypt has led to a considerable increase in the number of people from the United States choosing to get their news from Al Jazeera. I think Al Jazeera is a very interesting curveball for the broadcast news industry that we should be watching.  

The article and comments section make the case that other news outlets (MSNBC, CNN, ABC, CBS) have done a poor job of covering Egypt, while Al Jazeera has excelled. The claim that American coverage is lacking is convincing. More people seem to know that Anderson Cooper, Christiane Amanpour, and Katie Couric were attacked by the protesters than they know about the causes of the conflict (myself included). 

For those who are unfamiliar, Al Jazeera is the dominant news outlet (television and internet) in the middle east, and is popular all over the world. Except here. Cable providers in the United States have largely chosen not to pick up Al Jazeera. Some say this is because the audience isn't interested in Al Jazeera and the cable companies would lose money. Some say that Al Jazeera has been blacklisted for being sympathetic to terrorists. 

But for those who want it, Al Jazeera can be streamed live online which gives many Americans access even if it is not a choice on the television. Al Jazeera has dominated coverage of the situation in Egypt for several reasons, namely because they were already there and they know how to operate in the country. 

I visited the headquarters of Al Jazeera English in Washington D.C. with a college group in 2009. They actually let us in the control room during a live broadcast, and gave us what I consider to be a lot of access to their newsroom. The opinion piece I mentioned above is definitely something to think critically about, and consider the points for and against broadcasting Al Jazeera in the United States. 

The comments section on the article brings up some really great points about how Al Jazeera is seizing the opportunity to play up the "discrimination" against them by American viewers and also how Al Jazeera is a legitimate news source that Americans deserve access to. Internet is good but Americans get their news from the TV, and until Al Jazeera is given a channel the network just isn't going to take hold in the United States.

Check out Al Jazeera's coverage and let me know what you think. I'll be watching to see if the situation in Egypt gives Al Jazeera the momentum it needs for a cable provider in the US to pick up the network. 


  1. I've been following the Egypt situation largely through Al Jazeera English and I've been very impressed with them. Here is the link for their live stream. Their reporting of the events in Egypt seem pretty stable, much of what I hear there ends up on CNN or BBC's website later. I don't necessarily agree with their specific news programs, like Empire, but surely they aren't any worse than what Fox does.

  2. I agree... I feel like we allow such a variety in news programming already, there is no harm in putting Al Jazeera into the mix. I would be very interested to see just how much hits to their website and the live stream have increased due to the uprising in Egypt (and Tunisia, and now Yemen). If it is really as high as they make it out to be, I don't see a reason to keep them off the TV.