Al Jazeera's U.S. emergence

The Al Jazeera English newsroom in Doha, Qatar.
Credit: Mohamed Nanabhay

Al Jazeera made its cable debut in New York Monday just in time to capture Tuesday's historic scene in Cairo of Hosni Mubarak being wheeled into the courtroom on a hospital gurney. He faces charges ranging from corruption to ordering live rounds fired on the 800 protesters who were killed during the demonstrations that forced him to step down.

At the Salzburg Global Seminar on global media there was much discussion of both the English and Arabic versions of Al Jazeera and, as the Arab students were quick to point out, how completely different they are. Two students undertook a detailed comparison of several hours of broadcasting from both entities on February 11, the night that Mubarak stepped down.

As you can read at GlobalPost’s “Eye on US,” the New York cable presence for Al Jazeera comes through a deal to sublet airtime from channel owner WRNN. The channel will now reach an estimated two million or more homes in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Long Island, Westchester County and much of New Jersey, according to The New York Daily News.

Al Jazeera English will be simulcast 23 hours a day on WRNN's RISE channel, available in the New York area through Time Warner Cable and Verizon FiOS.

The Qatar-based channel has had mixed global reviews. It was harshly criticized in the years after 9-11 for broadcasting statements in Arabic from Osama bin Laden that went around the world largely unfiltered and unedited, and earned Al Jazeera the nickname in some American circles (read: Fox News), "the Al Qaeda network."

But Al Jazeera has also received much praise in America and abroad for its coverage of the Arab Spring, particularly the reporting it did on Egypt during the heady days of demonstrations in Tahrir Square that toppled Mubarak. Of course, it has also been noticed that there has been little coverage from Al Jazeera about the news of uprisings in Bahrain and how they were suppressed by Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Some have accused Al Jazeera of going soft on Bahrain because it was just too close to home.

To date, Al Jazeera has had only very limited U.S. distribution. One exception is Cambridge, Massachusetts where it has been available on community access channels. But for the most part, it has not been picked up by any major U.S. cable or satellite company with a wide audience. It currently airs in the Washington D.C. area through a similar arrangement to the one now set up in New York, according to The New York Times. Just a few other U.S. outlets — including ones in Ohio, Vermont and Los Angeles — carry Al Jazeera English newscasts.

For some wider perspective on Al Jazeera and how it fits into the wider global media landscape check out this project which GlobalPost did in partnership with the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, titled the "Global Media Wars." 

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