The recent earth-shattering events across the Middle East have propelled Al-Jazeera’s English station into the limelight. Since January, over one-third of Al-Jazeera’s website traffic has originated from the U.S. The recent uptick indicates that Americans value Arab perspectives in Middle East news coverage.
Although Americans' interest in the Middle East has been on the rise since the start of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars 10 years ago, Al-Jazeera – the only independent Arab news network – has not been able to penetrate U.S. markets.
During the Bush administration, Al-Jazeera was criticized for giving a platform to Osama Bin Laden and other anti-U.S. Islamic groups. Because of the controversial nature of the Arab news network in the U.S., television operators did not risk the political or consumer backlash that a contract might cause. Therefore, Al-Jazeera has been largely confined to the Internet in the U.S.
However, it appears this may all change.
Americans are now realizing the value of local Arab coverage, as the director-general of Al-Jazeera explained in a recent Op-Ed piece in Newsweek, “We are unique because our reporters understand the social, political, and historical fabric of the societies they cover. They speak the language. They know the terrain. This makes our news distinctive. It is journalism with depth.”
As Americans increasingly tune into Al-Jazeera’s website for real-time Arab news coverage of Egypt, U.S. TV operators may begin to feel comfortable to sign contracts with the Arab news network.
News from an independent Arab source would offer fresh perspectives and insight to an American society eager to understand current events in the Middle East. CNN, FOX, and other U.S. based news organizations will always have an important role to play. However, Al-Jazeera could compliment this coverage with unique local Arab insight.
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