Al Jazeera English Ready to Take On U.S.

Article  by  Paloma HASCHKE  •  Published 24.08.2011  •  Updated 24.08.2011
Poster Al Jazeera English
[NEWS] Al Jazeera English, younger sibling of the famous Qatari channel, has finally come to New York – but like for every newcomer in the city, settling in is a challenge. The channel is ready to take on the U.S., and has launched a campaign to conquer a wider audience across the country.

The channel was created in 2006 by the Al Jazeera network with the primary ambition of competing with the BBC and CNN International. While Al Jazeera English is already broadcast in over 100 countries, it is only available in a handful of cities in the U.S. To watch the channel live, the rest of the country has to tune into online video platforms like Livestation. Since the Arab Spring, the channel’s website has also boosted its capacity to offer viewers a 24-hour live stream of its broadcast.
Since August 1, New York has been added to the short list of cities airing Al Jazeera English on TV. However, this is only a “sublet”, as the news station is broadcasting via the channel RISE. This deal currently allows Al Jazeera English to broadcast its programs 23 hours a day and makes it available to roughly 2 million homes in the New York area.
The channel’s representatives are striving to turn this breakthrough into a strategic step toward wider negotiations with major cable companies like Comcast or DirectTV. “We will get on in the U.S.,” said Al Anstey, the channel’s managing director, to the New York Times. Later, he also told the Huffington Post, “New York is a very important city. It’s looking at all directions on the globe and all directions are looking back at New York City.” In terms of online traffic, Al Jazeera English’s website receives more visits from New York than from any other city in the world.

The channel’s significant gain in credibility and popularity within the U.S. as a result of its extensive coverage of the Egyptian uprising is today compared to the impact that the First Gulf war had on CNN’s notoriety. Al Jazeera English has been pushed to the forefront of the U.S. media scene. During the events in Egypt, some 7 millions viewers watched nearly 50 million minutes of live stream coverage on the channel’s website, generating a 2,500 percent increase in Web traffic. In March, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton labeled Al Jazeera English’s coverage of the Arab Spring real news, as opposed to U.S. news channels saturated with commercials and talking heads. Barak Obama himself has been said to have followed the events on Al Jazeera English.

The channel is hoping that such unprecedented enthusiasm will help secure national distribution in the U.S.; Al Jazeera English’s officials are trying to capitalize on this success by launching a campaign entitled “Demand Al Jazeera” on the channel’s website and on a dedicated Web portal, as well as on Facebook and Twitter. In order to promote it on a wider scale, they have been traveling across the country, giving several interviews to important newspapers. The goal of this campaign is to encourage people to send letters to their cable providers to demand Al Jazeera English – efforts that seem to be paying off. The channel received thousands of letters of support since February.
However, Al Jazeera English’s ambitions on the U.S. market are being challenged by two main difficulties: business and politics. Business reasons first: the cable companies’ main argument is the finite space they have for a new channel, especially an international news channels, as competition in this industry is already ferocious. This is even more daunting for a channel that doesn’t belong to a powerful media group, and cannot prove that millions are clamoring to watch it.

                       « Demand Al Jazeera » Campaign

Among the political reasons, some distributors may fear the backlash from customers or politicians that any kind of connections to the Al Jazeera networks could create. The Arabic channel was demonized by the Bush administration as platform for anti-American propaganda. In an interview he gave to New York Magazine, Ayman Mohyeldin, Al Jazeera English’s correspondent in Cairo, addressed the common confusion between the two channels. “We’re speaking to two very different audiences. Al Jazeera English speaks to the international English-speaking audience. Al Jazeera Arabic speaks to the Arab world. The perspectives are very different because the viewers are very different. [] We have two entirely independent editorial staffs. [] There’s a great amount of cooperation, and we share resources and information, though we don’t take our editorial guidelines from Al Jazeera Arabic and they don’t take theirs from Al Jazeera English.”

However, despite a saturated and politically sensitive market, it is not out of the question that Al Jazeera English will one day obtain its rightful position in the U.S. media landscape. As Richard Sambrook, the former director of BBC Global News, noted in the Guardian, "Western journalism, including the international networks, is shrinking as news organisations close bureaus and make staff redundant to cut costs. At the same time, states in other parts of the world are investing in journalism [such as the Qatari] Al-Jazeera, Iran's Press TV [] and the Chinese have just invested $7bn [in this industry]. So we may be seeing a shift from western dominated international news to Mideast and Asian dominance in the long run."


Illustration Credits:
- Launching of Al Jazeera English in New York from the channel's website
- « Demand Al Jazeera English » Campaign from  channel's website.

Video Credit:
- « Setting the News Agenda » from channel I Want AJE on YouTube.
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