The New York Times recently printed an article by Noel Cohen about the limited access Americans have to Al Jazeera’s coverage of Israel’s invasion of Gaza. This, as Cohen notes, is in part because the station is carried only by cable providers in Burlington, Vt.; Toledo, Ohio; and Washington, D.C.
Why is it so important that Americans see Al Jazeera’s coverage? Aren’t there other networks to watch? Of course, but most of those other networks are reporting with a severe handicap- they are not in Gaza.
In a conflict where the Western news media have been largely prevented from reporting from Gaza because of restrictions imposed by the Israeli military, Al Jazeera has had a distinct advantage. It was already there.
The Qatar-based network has frequently been accused by the Bush administration as being biased and “supporting global terror.” The network has even been the target of US military attacks. In this contentious political climate it has been difficult for Al Jazeera to gain access to the US media market. Canada as well has placed severe restrictions on the network’s ability to broadcast. In Israel last year the government voted to boycott the channel, saying, “These reports are untrustworthy and they hurt us, and they arouse people to terrorist activities.”
And yet at least some in the mainstream western press are starting to see value in Al Jazeera’s reporting. CNN has contracted with the network to carry some of its footage, and just this week, in the Israeli daily Haaretz, Gidon Levy refered to Al Jazeera correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin as “My War Hero”, inviting his readers to “tune to this wise and considered broadcaster.” Noel Cohen’s article in the Times implies a similar invitation to tune in, though it was ironically buried in the business section under the banner “Media & Advertising”.
Viewers in the US can watch selected Al Jazeera English clips on Youtube, or can stream broadcasts live at www.livestation.com , but this remains a limited market for television news. Mohyeldin, who is from the US, seems all too aware that his reports not reaching a broader American public:
It’s very frustrating to know that your work, and al-Jazeera English’s work, which I think can really give people the reality of the situation . . . is not reaching people who can make an impact here on the ground immediately.
UPDATE: Al Jazeera Announces Launch of Free Footage under Creative Commons License.