While many Americans are flocking to Al Jazeera English to get a different account of the tumult in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and elsewhere in the Middle East, most of these viewers have to go online to do so. While Cambridge Community Television, to its credit, recently announced that it will begin airing an hourlong news broadcast from Al Jazeera English on weeknights, the network isn’t offered by the vast majority of American cable carriers. It’s time for this to change.
One reason cable companies have been shy about carrying the channel is that its parent, the Qatar-based Arabic-language network Al Jazeera, has had a touchy relationship with the US government. Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld called the station’s coverage of the war in Iraq “vicious, inaccurate, and inexcusable,’’ while the network blamed the American military for intentionally targeting journalists after a 2003 strike on a Baghdad hotel killed an Al Jazeera correspondent.
But this relationship has softened under President Obama, and last month Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lauded the network for its coverage during a Senate committee hearing.
Clinton is right: Through its coverage of recent unrest in Arab countries, and through its efforts to hire veteran correspondents from mainstream American and British news organizations, Al Jazeera has shown that it intends to be a vital source of news from a pivotal region of the world. Yes, the network has a point of view — its coverage tends to be skeptical both of non-democratic rulers in the Middle East and North Africa, and of American involvement in the region. But many Americans share this same viewpoint, and even for those who don’t the network can be deeply informative.
As premium cable packages run into the hundreds of channels, including stations devoted narrowly to soccer, animal shows, or jewelry, there’s surely room for Al Jazeera English. Cable viewers in Cambridge won’t have to go to YouTube or the Al Jazeera website to see the channel (for an hour a night, at least). Other Americans deserve the same opportunity.