By Sam Gustin February 22, 2011
Al-Jazeera is in discussions with Comcast about bringing the network’s English-language channel to millions of U.S. homes via the nation’s largest cable operator. It would be a major breakthrough, capitalizing on the network’s growing reputation here as a honest and steadfast provider of news from an increasingly tumultuous Middle East.
“We’re very grateful for all the support and appreciation we’ve been receiving,” Al-Jazeera English managing director Al Anstey said in a statement. “Clearly the demand is there for Al-Jazeera, and people want to see us on their screens.”
Anstey arrived in New York City on Tuesday to lead the talks, the network said. The Comcast meeting was the first gambit in a new push by Al-Jazeera to get on U.S. cable systems, which have been reluctant to carry the Qatar-based news network. A Comcast spokesperson declined to comment on the talks.
It’s quite a turn of events for Al-Jazeera, which until its widely praised coverage of the unrest in Egypt was something of a pariah in the United States. During the Iraq War, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld branded the network’s reporting of civilian casualties as “vicious, inaccurate and inexcusable.”
Now, the White House is watching Al-Jazeera alongside CNN.
As recently as a few weeks ago, Fox News host Bill O’Reilly labeled Al-Jazeera as “anti-American.” Later on the same program Fox News commentator Monica Crowley called the network a “propaganda outfit for the autocrats who sit on the sands of the Middle East.”
This might come as a surprise to Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who accused the channel of “fomenting unrest.” Or to embattled Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, who in a rambling and defiant speech Tuesday said Al-Jazeera was trying to portray Libyans as “bad people … a people of turbans and low beards,” according to one translation.
Al-Jazeera, which has more journalists in the Middle East than any U.S. news agency, was repeatedly cited by MSNBC and CNN even before the network offered its content to other outlets through a Creative Commons license.
And its treatment by security forces in Egypt and Libya added credence to Al-Jazeera’s insistence that it is independent. In Egypt, Mubarak’s goons ransacked and closed the network’s Cairo bureau, before assaulting and detaining several of its journalists. In Libya, state intelligence services jammed Al-Jazeera’s TV signal on the Arabsat satellite frequency, the network said.
Al-Jazeera, which is Arabic for “the island,” is currently not available on any major U.S. cable system, but Al-Jazeera English is streamed live on the web, for free.
The network says it can also be seen in local markets in Vermont, Ohio and Washington, D.C., on the following systems: GlobeCast World TV (DTH Satellite), Buckeye Cable (Toledo, Ohio), Burlington Cable (Burlington, Vermont), Link TV (Direct TV channel 375 or Dish Network channel 9410), Washington Cable (Washington, D.C.) and MHz Networks (Washington, D.C., by agreement with Comcast).