Al Jazeera’s 24hour English language news station may soon be available on a television near you. That is great news to those who seek the lastest information from the Middle East and around the world. Currently only available in a few places in the US, namely Washington DC, Toledo and Sandusky Ohio, Burlington Vermont, and Houston, Texas, coverage may soon be expanding greatly. Executives from Al Jazeera have recently visited Comcast’s headquarters in Philadelphia.
It is said, strike when the iron is hot, and man is Al Jazeera hot right now. Offering superior coverage of the recent revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and elsewhere, they have seen traffic to their webstream reportedly rise by 2500%, about half of which are streaming from the US. Al Jazeera received 40,000 emails from Americans who wanted the station available to them. They were able to deliver to Comcast 13,000 emails from American Comcast customers who want English Al Jazeera added to their line up. Another 7500 and 1000 emails were delivered to Time Warner and Cablevision, with whom Al Jazeera also met.
Not only did Al Jazeera cover the recent revolutions better than their American counterparts, they may be able to claim a bit of credit. Wadah Khanfar, director general of the Al Jazeera network spoke at the Technology entertainment and Design conference or TED on Tuesday. He reports that although Al Jazeera had been baned from Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, (presumably because Dictators aren’t too keen on a free press), they were still able to cover the events because of two key factors. One, they were trusted by the people, and when the people took to the streets, they brought their cameras with them and those videos made their way to Al Jazeera. Al Jazeera also had many brave journalists willing to put their lives on the line to go undercover to report on the pro-democracy protests. This may have been one of the deciding factors that allowed these revolutions to be a success rather than a genocide. Mr. Khanfar recalls: “receiving a phone call one night from someone in Tahrir Square in Egypt who appealed to him not to switch off the cameras. ‘If you switch off the cameras tonight, there will be a genocide. You are protecting us by showing what is happening at Tahrir Square.’
Personally, as someone who tries to keep up with news from the Middle East, I am hopeful that English Al Jazeera will be more widely available to Americans. I have a feeling, if available, they will quickly join FOX, MSNBC and CNN as one of the more popular 24 hour news stations. This may be one of the few times I agree with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. I’m sure many who read this will be very skeptical, but I would encourage you, please take a little time to check out English Al Jazeera. You can check out the coverage on their website or live webstream, and judge the content for yourself.