Why Al Jazeera Isn't Available In The United States

I've been frustrated by the fact that I can't get Al Jazeera on cable broadcast, only Roku and via my iPhone. While I know there's a movement afoot to petition cable networks to add it, I have my doubts it will happen. Why? Well, simply put, because

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I've been frustrated by the fact that I can't get Al Jazeera on cable broadcast, only Roku and via my iPhone. While I know there's a movement afoot to petition cable networks to add it, I have my doubts it will happen. Why? Well, simply put, because the Department of Defense under the Bush administration was offended by their more objective reporting during the invasion of Iraq.

Someone pointed me to this 2003 New York Times article with details. Shortly after their official launch, they were attacked non-stop by hackers on the web. They inked a deal with Akamai to serve their content, only to see it abruptly terminated.

The English version of Al Jazeera's Web site was shut by hackers roughly 12 hours after it went online on March 25. For a time, Web users trying to gain access were directed to a Web page bearing an American flag. Akamai, whose clients include MSNBC and CNN, maintains a broad network of servers that provide protection from hacking attempts. It was for that reason, Ms. Tucker said, that Al Jazeera hired the company.

"Basically this was our answer to the hacking that has been nonstop and pretty aggressive," she said. "We had a done-and-dusted deal on March 28. Then yesterday, we get a letter from them terminating the contract."

While the Akamai deal was for web services, cable companies have found a myriad of reasons to keep them out of cable listings. Beginning in 2009, Al Jazeera undertook a grass-roots effort to petition carriers to add them, but to little avail.

Burman told The Standard in an e-mail that he believes the main reason the station has not yet won over Americans is that carriers don't see it as a money maker. "However, we all recognize that the world is getting smaller, and Americans realize that it is essential to know what is happening in the Middle East, in Africa, in Asia and in Latin America, not just the news that is deemed relevant in Atlanta, London or other Western cities."

When AJE is given the chance to fill that vacuum, people will watch, Burman predicts. "And that's really the name of the game for cable and satellite companies," he said.

Just in case there are other reasons AJE might not be finding favor, IWantAJE.net features a mythbuster page that corrects erroneous beliefs about the network. It claims that the station is not merely an English translation of Al Jazeera Arabic and it has never aired a beheading.

Al Jazeera's reporting on the Egypt uprising has been unparalleled. Coverage on the usual channels has been ridiculously biased, US-centric, and banal. For an example of the differences, if you have the CNN iPhone or iPad app, check the "live" link on it. It goes straight to Egypt State Television. On the other hand, Al Jazeera has consistently provided on-the-street information, even after being cut off by the Egyptian government.

Global Grind has an exclusive email interview up with Al-Jazeera anchor Imran Garda, who lays the blame at the feet of an excessively paranoid Bush administration and their feverish need to shape the news as pro-US, anti-Arab. I'd say that's about right.

For several years Al Jazeera English was perceived by American cable providers and the American public as the voice of Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden. With its coverage of the uprising in Egypt, do you see a shift in American perception of Al Jazeera English as a legitimate news organization that reports the news in a fair and balanced way? If so, how?

Regarding the perception within the US - that is true. Although pre-9-11, and particular pre the US-led invasion of Iraq, we were celebrated by numerous policymakers, intellectuals and journalists. Thomas Friedman of the NY Times wrote a piece in 1999 championing how free, open and credible Al Jazeera was, and how groundbreaking it was for the region, particularly since it upset the status quo of authoritarian leaders running propaganda channels in each country within the Arab world.

With the aftermath of 911, I think there was a strong desire to frame the US response, and specifically the "War on Terror" in very clear cut, almost ideological terms. Al Jazeera showing the effects on civilian populations of air raids which the military told the public only killed "insurgents" or "terrorists" certainly didn't help when you're in the DOD and trying to assure the public of the absolute righteousness of a just war, whether in trying to oust the Taliban in Afghanistan or topple Saddam Hussein in Iraq.

Because seeing those images might just have changed how we viewed what we were doing over there. After all, Walter Cronkite got away with it during the Viet Nam war and look what happened. Can't have a repeat performance of that in these times, now can we?

However, there seems to be a thaw under the Obama administration, but not necessarily with cable companies.

The objections from the cable companies have come for both political and commercial reasons, said Burman, the former editor-in-chief of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. "In 2006, pre-Obama, the experience was a challenging one. Essentially this was a period when a lot of negative stereotypes were associated with Al Jazeera. The effort was a difficult one," he said, citing the Bush administration's public hostility to the network.

"There was reluctance from these companies to embark in a direction that would perhaps be opposed by the Bush administration. I think that's changed. I think if anything the Obama administration has indicated to Al Jazeera that it sees us as part of the solution, not part of the problem," Burman said.

Petition your carrier to add Al Jazeera here.

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