Conflict & Justice

Finally, Al Jazeera lands in the United States


Graffiti praising Al-Jazeera news channel is seen on a wall in the eastern dissident-held Libyan city of Tobruk on Feb 24, 2011.


Patrick Baz

After a prolonged campaign, Al Jazeera English will finally be available in the United States. The cable news station managed to sublet some television space in New York City, representatives from the company said Monday.

Although it's a tiny sliver of the vast American market, the development is significant.

Around since 1996 and based in Qatar, Al Jazeera, with its Arabic name and sometimes unflattering coverage of U.S. military interventions around the world, quickly drew the ire of the Bush administration, which colored it as a soap box for terrorists. It's decision to air Al Qaeda videos didn't help and neither did its sympathetic coverage of the Palestinians.

For these reasons, partly, Al Jazeera has never been able to break into the United States, even while it flourished in much of the rest of the world.

More from GlobalPost: The power of Al Jazeera

To Americans lucky enough to watch Al Jazeera English abroad (or online), however, the channel is striking. The breadth of its coverage is like nothing found in the United States. Al Jazeera is covering every corner of the world. While news of Syria, Libya and Egypt dominated the news cycle and the resources of American cable news outlets, Al Jazeera continued to cover the less talked about conflicts in Africa, South Asia and elsewhere.

Al Jazeera's reporting lacks the kind of daily hysteria so prevalent on American cable news stations and its anchors rely on a diverse array of experts, analysts and everyday people that are actually interesting and informed. Although its sympathy for Palestinians — and pretty much every underdog around the world — is obvious, it regularly airs long, nuanced debates between Israelis and Palestinians on both sides.

Of course, it was its blanketing coverage of the vast and complicated story of the Arab Spring that distinguished Al Jazeera in the way that CNN did during the first Gulf War. The coverage has been invaluable to those taking part in, and following, the protests and has helped inspire a kind of independent media renaissance in the Middle East.

Al Jazeera was founded, and is financed, by the monarchy in Qatar. Its coverage of the kingdom is noticeably lacking. But its deep pockets allows it to make up for it in the rest of the world.

As an editor in charge of coverage on the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan, it is hard to exaggerate the importance of Al Jazeera English on my work.

But I first fell for the cable news station while living in Indonesia, long before my life revolved around the Arab world. Exhausted by the chattering heads on American news networks, I loved Al Jazeera's straightforward reporting and I found its perspective on U.S. news refreshing. It aired on-the-ground footage from conflicts all over the planet, footage that I was shocked to be seeing on television but ultimately grateful for it helped me understand the true costs.

It was stuff that would never be shown in the United States, which is perhaps what makes Al Jazeera so important.