Why American cable should carry Al Jazeera

Broadcasting the Middle Eastern news network in the U.S. would dispel stereotypes and broaden our understanding of the region, argues The New York Times' Frank Rich

More than four years after the first broadcast of Al Jazeera English, few U.S. cable providers even carry it.
(Image credit: Corbis)

The American public lacks real understanding of Egypt's revolution, says Frank Rich in The New York Times. Yes, the images coming out of Cairo are "riveting," but "more often than not we have little or no context for what we're watching." That's the unfortunate result of "years of self-censored, superficial, provincial and at times Islamophobic coverage of the Arab world" by much of the American media. Instead of in-depth coverage, we get unexamined "talking-head invocations" about the role of Twitter and Facebook in the Arab uprisings. One news network, of course, "blankets" the Middle East and could truly enlighten Americans: Al Jazeera English. But thanks to our "noxious domestic political atmosphere," says Rich, very few U.S. cable providers carry it. Here, an excerpt:

"Al Jazeera English, run by a 35-year veteran of the Canadian Broadcasting Company, is routinely available in Israel and Canada. It provided coverage of the 2009 Gaza war and this year’s Tunisian revolt when no other television networks would or could. Yet in America, it can be found only in Washington, D.C., and on small cable systems in Ohio and Vermont. None of the biggest American cable and satellite companies — Comcast, DirecTV and Time Warner — offer it...

Unable to watch Al Jazeera English, and ravenous for comprehensive and sophisticated 24/7 television coverage of the Middle East otherwise unavailable on television, millions of Americans last week tracked down the network’s Internet stream on their computers. Such was the work-around required by the censorship practiced by America’s corporate gatekeepers. You’d almost think these news-starved Americans were Iron Curtain citizens clandestinely trying to pull in the jammed Voice of America signal in the 1950s — or Egyptians desperately seeking Al Jazeera after Mubarak disrupted its signal last week."

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