Egypt's Pain Has Been Al Jazeera's Gain
But this crisis has a distinctive look from the traditional tableau of viewers glued to Western news channels.
While CNN, BBC, and other networks scrambled to mobilize crews to the scene, Al Jazeera English rose above the fray and provided live, around-the-clock coverage. Americans took notice and the Qatar based network, largely despised and often misunderstood in the country, soared in visibility.
This time of instability and violence in the Middle East, has been a proud moment for the news agency. Its cameras have been capturing the most striking images of the conflict; its journalists, bloodied in the middle of the scrum, have been giving intimate, on-air reports.
During ABC’s “This Week” veteran journalist Sam Donaldson personally thanked an Al Jazeera reporter for his work.
Some pundits have called the channel's coverage of Egyptian conflict Al Jazeera’s “CNN moment,” referring to the American network’s Gulf War reporting. That was wildly successful at the time and cemented its status as a news leader.
Unlike CNN, which was an easily accessible network to an average cable viewer, Al Jazeera English has very little reach into American homes. Of the top 50 TV markets in the country, only the Washington D.C. area has full access to the channel.
So far none of the larger carriers like DirecTV or Comcast has commented on the likelihood of adding Al Jazeera English to their lineup. But if demand is what they’re waiting for, the reaction of Americans looking for news during the crisis is a strong argument in the foreign network's favor.
The Huffington Post reported that traffic to Al Jazeera English’s website, where they were streaming content live, surged by 2500 percent this past week—more than half of it coming from the US. Its Facebook page, also a streaming outlet, has been "Liked" by users more than 300,000 times.
“I sincerely hope now is the turning point,” Al Anstey, the managing director of Al Jazeera English said to the New York Times.
Truly revamping its image across the country could still be an uphill battle. The network has long been labeled as having a pro-Arab slant and being strongly critical of American policies, especially as it relates to Israel.
One of the central conflicts in Egypt's struggle has been the role of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamic organization that could gain power if embattled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak resigns. This underpinning clash of East and West has been playing out in the media as well.
Bill O’Reilly remains extremely critical of the network, saying on a recent episode of his Fox News show that is has been “spurring on the revolt.” Despite its status as a secular organization, O’Reilly claimed it is pushing an Islamic agenda.
“They would be happy to see [the Muslim Brotherhood] take power,” O’Reilly said.
But social media outlets, which have been the fuel the unrest, may allow Al Jazeera English to bypass that problem altogether. It has licensed many of the videos and pictures to creative commons, a free repository for anyone to use. In addition to streaming through its website and Facebook page, Youtube as well as Roku, an internet-based set top box, have been running an Al Jazeera English feed.
The network, along with the country it is covering, is in a highly visible period of transition. It remains to be seen how either will look at the other end of this story.
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