Open Mic

Forget Fox News and CNN. To Really Get a Global Perspective We Need Our Cable Operators to Carry Al Jazeera English

Aaron Barnhart Posted February 11, 2011 at 4:53 AM

[Note—This first appeared in print on Thursday, Feb. 10, 2011, so when Aaron refers to “today” or “tonight,” that’s the date to which he is referring.]

Since the protests broke out in Egypt, there has been one constant: the relentless, thorough and unbiased reporting of Qatar-based Al Jazeera Arabic and Al Jazeera English.

And in this country, there's been another constant: growing restlessness with cheapskate cable operators who see fit to add scores of trashy entertainment channels to the dial and not one source for 24-hour global news told from an international perspective.

Today is Al Jazeera Meetup Day across the U.S., so if it's been bugging you that you can get this TV channel on your smartphone, your laptop, your Roku box--basically every place but your TV set--then now is the time to meet with other fans and demand the Al Jazeera English.

One meetup is happening in the Kansas City area, at 7 p.m. tonight at Crepes on the Square in Liberty. Timothy Gaull, who confirms a handful of attendees will be there, said he'll be having "a conversation about the narrow focus of mainstream media and of course a group of folks are pulling for Al Jazeera English to be granted broadcast licenses and rights here in our own market."

The target of these meetups are the major cable operators: Time Warner, Comcast and so on. These are companies that consider their public service complete by funding C-SPAN. That was a great idea in 1979, back when there were 10 cable channels. Now there are hundreds and it's time for the industry to step up by hosting one or two (for you BBC fans) global news channels that will go places and invest in bureaus and journalists that American news channels long ago gave up on.

DirecTV and Dish get a pass, for now, because they air LINK TV, which airs global news including Al Jazeera English's newscasts.

Al Jazeera English reaches 200 million people in the English-speaking world, and the original Al Jazeera reaches a billion or so Arabic viewers. It’s the world’s most recognized global media brand and widely respected everywhere, it seems, but the United States.

Viewer by viewer, that’s starting to change. And though tonight’s meetup numbers seem minuscule, compared with the reception my original piece on Al Jazeera English received in 2007, this feels like a groundswell.

Now that the Middle East is apparently on the front burner of our news agenda for the indefinite future, it’s time American cable operators stepped up and gave the public a truly global journalistic perspective.

[Here's Aaron's related piece that he wrote earlier this week]

Ever since it launched in 2006, Al Jazeera English has been the best cable channel I can't get on cable.

Broadcasting 24 hours a day from 65 bureaus around the world, AJE puts every American-owned TV news organization to shame. Its live coverage of the fighting in Gaza in 2009 drove many people to watch it on the Web, but it was still viewed as a novelty by many Americans until the events in Egypt.

AJE's reporting on the unrest in Egypt was the envy of broadcasters the world over, who relied heavily on video feeds from the Doha-based channel. And, needless to say, it was a thorn in the side of the henchmen who run Egypt and who couldn't yank Al Jazeera Arabic off Egyptian TV fast enough. NBC jetted Brian Williams in to anchor the "Nightly News" from Cairo, but that couldn't make up for years of investment in reporting on Egypt (as Williams would be the first to tell you).

Since Jan. 27 AJE has beefed up its video streaming capacity to handle the huge spikes in traffic, a spokesperson told me earlier today. More than 7 million U.S. viewers have spent nearly 50 million minutes watching the AJE website since Jan. 27.

Very few people, though, find watching live news coverage on the Web or their mobile more satisfying than watching it on plain old television.

Brian Stelter of The New York Times thought to ask the top 10 cable and satellite services if they were planning to add AJE, and they gave him pretty much the same answer they'd have given him if he'd asked them about carrying BBC World or CBC Newsworld or the Documentary Channel: "Do we own that channel? No? Then forget it."

Or words to that effect.#

My suggested links to read more about this:

Click to find out about the Demand Al Jazeera in the U.S. campaign

Click here to read about  Egypt cracking down on Al Jazeera