Al Jazeera English gains cachet in U.S. during Egypt rallies

by
February 7, 2011

By David Lieberman, USA Today

There has been a cloud over Qatar-based television news service Al Jazeera English since its launch in late 2006. An Arab channel about world affairs seemed too arcane, and potentially controversial, to cable and satellite companies here. Most declined to carry the channel.

That cloud may be lifting as the world waits to see what will happen as thousands of Egyptians clamor to oust President Hosni Mubarak. Audiences are flocking to Al Jazeera English’s website (english.aljazeera.net), which some people consider to be one of the most dependable news sources about the situation in Egypt.

“We’ve seen an exponential increase in demand, interest and viewership for Al Jazeera English since this story has begun,” says Al Anstey, managing director.

The channel says that Web traffic is more than 1,000% higher than normal since the protests in Cairo began on Jan. 27. More than 7 million U.S. users visited the website through Feb. 2. At least 2.5 million have gone there to watch video streams.

Visitors to the site also find a plea to “Demand Al Jazeera in the USA.” There’s a box where they can send a message to their local cable provider.

In Washington, D.C., Comcast, Verizon FiOS and Cox carry the channel. Elsewhere, it’s only on a few independent systems, including Buckeye CableSystem in Toledo, Ohio, and Burlington Telecom in Vermont.

Anstey says that Al Jazeera English has struggled to convince pay-TV companies that it is fair and professional, not an outlet for political propaganda.

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