One of the biggest stories of the past few weeks has been the story of Americans discovering Al Jazeera English. It shouldn't have been so hard.
As the protest movement in Egypt grew, Americans found that Al Jazeera had what no US network has any more: fully staffed reporting teams working round the clock in Cairo. But other than in a handful of pockets across the U.S. -- including Ohio, Vermont and Washington, D.C. -- cable viewers couldn't watch Al Jazeera. Some cable operators have blamed political pressure. Others have said they had little time for it.
Even as American diplomats damn the Egyptian government for blocking the free flow of information, a handful of cable operators right here exercise a chokehold on their viewers' options. And Al Jazeera -- a victim of post-9/11 Islamophobia -- is not one of those.
As the New York Times' Frank Rich bemoaned this week, "The noxious domestic political atmosphere fostering this near-blackout is obvious to all". One result is a poorly informed public. As Rich put it (and he's hardly the first): "we see the Middle East on television only when it flares up and then generally in medium or long shot."
The other result, this season, has been a huge surge of traffic in the US to Al Jazeera English's website.
Sooner or later some for-profit network's going to wise up and make a big deal of adding Al Jazeera English. (Maybe it'll be the new AOL/Huffington Post platform.) Before they do -- let's point out that Al Jazeera can now and has for a long time been seen daily on our partner station, Free Speech TV.
Since October 2009, FSTV has been airing Al Jazeera English on Dish Network ch. 9415 and DirecTV 348, and making it available, along with the rest of its lineup, to some 300 community run cable stations coast to coast. Since the uprising, FSTV has expanded from one hour a night to more than 13 hours of Al Jazeera's live-stream daily. LinkTV has done the same. Link's daily report on the Middle East, MOSAIC has drawn on Al Jazeera for years.
We've long been fans of Al Jazeera English, for its smart timely reports such as Big Noise Films' “White Power USA.” Even more, we're fans of independent media. Not corporate owned like the cable companies, nor state funded like Al Jazeera, independent channels are the first stop for those seeking TV options, and programmers brave enough to resist baiting. And it's a pity that pundits like Rich, even as they bemoan blackouts, continue their own.