Many Americans rely on television for their news, a source with a gaping hole when it comes to the Middle East. With a few exceptions, they can’t tune in to Al Jazeera in English, the Arab TV channel that provides the rest of the world with 24-hour-a-day coverage of the popular revolution that is sweeping the Middle East.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton tackled the issue recently. She told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that America is losing the “information war” because Al Jazeera offers “real news” instead of “a million commercials” and “arguments between talking heads” in our own television news.
An Associated Press report said that CNN, ABC, CBS and NBC all declined comment on the Clinton remarks. It quoted Fox News Channel’s Michael Clement as saying he was “surprised and kind of curious” over what she said.
Why was it surprising? There she was, right in the middle of today’s biggest world event and news story. How could she not complain that Americans are mostly deprived of an Arab news source that claims persuasively to reach more than 100 countries and nearly 220 million households around the world? What could be more important than keeping the American public informed about what goes on in the Arab World?
An online Fox News outlet reported that Al Jazeera was meeting with Comcast about adding the Al Jazeera English news network to Comcast’s cable lineup. It said Al Jazeera TV can now be seen in local markets in Vermont, Ohio and Washington, D.C., and that a deal with Comcast could open the way to other cable companies.
Al Jazeera is making a big push to expand its TV availability in the United States. You can get it online. Its Washington bureau chief, Aderrahim Foukara, told Time magazine that American cable companies, after seeing Al Jazeera’s coverage of Egypt, should see the benefits and the wisdom of making Al Jazeera television available. The network said that more than 40,000 people had e-mailed American cable operators demanding access to Al Jazeera coverage.
Time Warner, which provides cable service to most of Maine, tells inquirers it is “committed to providing the best programming available, does not now have an agreement with Al Jazeera English, but is always willing to negotiate with them.”
Secretary Clinton now has done her part in pressing the issue. She told the lawmakers that “you may not agree with it, but you feel like you’re getting real news around the clock” — not “the kind of stuff that we do on our news, which, you know, is not particularly informative to us, let alone foreigners.”
Time Warner and the rest of the cable systems should see the light before long. When they do, they will be helping their viewers, their country and their own business. Al Jazeera’s time has come.