Al Jazeera Lobbies Online for U.S. Cable Access
Carla Thornton, The Industry Standard
The Middle East TV news station Al Jazeera English has launched a Web-based grassroots campaign in a bid to increase its North American audience and correct "misperceptions" about the 24-hour news network.
IWantAJE.net provides background information on the network, the first English-language channel to be headquartered in the Middle East, and attempts to counter the negative attitude many Americans have toward it. It also contains a prominent call for viewers to "demand AJE", and offers a Web-based tool for U.S. and Canadian residents to petition local cable providers.
Launched only two years ago, Al Jazeera English says it is widely respected for reporting on stories often neglected by the Western media. The channel is now available in over 100 countries and reaches 130 million households, according to the campaign site. However, very few cable and satellite networks in the U.S. and Canada carry it.
Tony Burman, the network's managing director, claims there is pent-up demand for Al Jazeera English in North America. "The channel's Web site receives 22 million visits every month with over 50 percent coming from North America," he said in a press release. "These numbers alone show how hungry North Americans are for the fearless, groundbreaking reporting that runs daily on AJE."
Burman told The Standard in an e-mail that he believes the main reason the station has not yet won over Americans is that carriers don't see it as a money maker. "However, we all recognize that the world is getting smaller, and Americans realize that it is essential to know what is happening in the Middle East, in Africa, in Asia and in Latin America, not just the news that is deemed relevant in Atlanta, London or other Western cities."
When AJE is given the chance to fill that vacuum, people will watch, Burman predicts. "And that's really the name of the game for cable and satellite companies," he said.
Just in case there are other reasons AJE might not be finding favor, IWantAJE.net features a mythbuster page that corrects erroneous beliefs about the network. It claims that the station is not merely an English translation of Al Jazeera Arabic and it has never aired a beheading.
Visitors to the site are given the opportunity to send an e-mail directly to their local cable or satellite provider requesting that AJE be picked up. So far only two local cable companies in the U.S., Buckeye Cable in Toledo, Ohio, and Burlington Cable in Burlington, Vermont, carry it. Subscribers to international satellite provider Globecast also can watch the channel on their televisions. PBS' WorldFocus and DISH and DIRECTV air selected AJE programs.
The only place on the Web where a live uninterrupted broadcast of Al Jazeera English can be seen is at Livestation. However, thousands of individual reports can be seen on AJE's page on YouTube, where AJE says it is the most popular news channel.
AJE says it has received awards from YouTube, the Monte-Carlo TV Festival and Amnesty International, and has received two Emmy nominations for international news and current affairs.