Al Jazeera English has received deserved praise for its Egyptian protest coverage. The main reason? "Unlike any US networks, AJE has fully staffed reporting teams working around the clock in Cairo and other less-traveled regions in Egypt," The Nation's Peter Rothberg notes. Still, very few Americans have access to the channel stateside, in part because of conservative efforts to keep cable companies from carrying it when it first launched in 2006.
Looking to capitalize on its time in the "positive spotlight," Al Jazeera has purchased full page ads in newspapers, facilitated "Demand Al Jazeera" meet-ups through social media and has provided a pre-written letter where frustrated cable viewers can petition providers. This could be great news, because the U.S. would probably be well-served by having another 24 hour news network other than the current big three: Move Forward, Lean Forward and Left Behind.
But take a glance at this #DemandAlJazeera Day page with the large map of meetups. Isn't harnessing protest fever--during an actual, dangerous protest--to promote the network just a bit...tactless? While Al Jazeera isn't explicitly saying so, they don't seem to mind if you decide that asking cable companies to add them to your channel lineup is your way of supporting the end of authoritarian rule in Egypt. The words of Wadah Khanfar, director general of the Al Jazeera Network, illustrate the seamless way the network has harnessed protest fever for self-promotion:
We will report the news however we can. If we have to use flip cams in Egypt, we will. If we have to use online platforms in the US, we will.
Yet we will work hand in hand with partners everywhere--including American cable and satellite companies--to ensure that even more people have the option to watch Al Jazeera. Even those with access can choose to change the channel and watch something else.
But the past month has shown us something that America can no longer ignore: millions of Americans want to watch our channel and better understand our region, and too many are deprived of that opportunity.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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