Thursday, February 3, 2011

Middle East: Al Jazeera facing obstacles in US market access

Al Jazeera

US viewers seek Al Jazeera coverage
Despite obstacles impeding our progress, Al Jazeera continues to bring quality coverage from around the world.
By Wadah Khanfar

"For years Al Jazeera has reported on how the Egyptian population is affected by economic hardship and political stagnation. Other networks may choose to focus on headline-grabbing stories simplifying extremist threats, or framing violence against human beings as merely a factor in global oil prices. Other networks, of course, have provided excellent coverage in many parts of the world. All along, Al Jazeera continued apace, offering more pedestrian, if nuanced, perspectives, even when our home region is not the topic on everyone's minds.

"No one would accuse us of failing to forecast Egypt's boiling anger, or Tunisia's for the matter. That's not because our journalists are superheroes - though, if you watch, you appreciate their determination to get the story right. I would posit a simpler explanation for their successes: our journalists exist in the right places and are given the space and resources to get the job done. Most importantly, they have editorial freedom.

"Even still, there are many places where we cannot do our jobs. The governments of Algeria, Morocco, Iraq, and Bahrain will not let our journalists step foot on their soil.

"We were also banned in Ben Ali's Tunisia. We overcame this through the use of social media tools like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Images of Tunisia's uprising went from local villages to our global audience of over one hundred million viewers. I am proud to say we were not only first, we were everywhere, deploying well ahead of the tipping point, arriving to cover the demonstrators when they gathered on the ministry of interior - a symbol of torture and repression in most Arab countries.

"Egyptian president Mubarak closed our offices, confiscated our equipment and arrested our journalists. The Egyptian government has removed Al Jazeera from NileSat, the state-owned satellite carrier, delaying our ability to be easily found in Egypt and North Africa. We have reappeared through other carriers, while instructions on how to find us go viral across the internet.

"Elsewhere, in the United States, Al Jazeera faces a different kind of blackout, based largely on misinformed views about our content and journalism. Some of the largest American cable and satellite providers have instituted corporate obstacles against Al Jazeera English.

"We are on the air and on the major cable system in the nation's capital, and some of America's leading policymakers in Washington, DC, have told us that Al Jazeera English is their channel of choice for understanding global issues. But we are not available in the majority of the 50 states for much of the general public."

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