Al-Jazeera English has been hailed for its vivid, groundbreaking coverage of the Arab Spring, gaining worldwide recognition for its expansive resources and reportage. But until recently, the majority of U.S. viewers could only watch the channel online.
Six months on from the outbreak of protests in the Arab Spring, the Qatar-based network has failed to gain distribution in any of the major U.S. cable companies. It is available only in Washington D.C. and two regions of Vermont and Ohio, but is now set to air on the screens of Time Warner and Verizon FIOS subscribers, The New York Times reported.
Although Al-Jazeera is popular in New York, anti-Al Jazeera sentiment has been felt in the U.S ever since President George Bush's administration painted the channel as an anti-American network that sympathized with terrorists. Former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld once accused it of "vicious, inaccurate and inexcusable" reporting about the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.
But in the rest of the world, Al-Jazeera English's profile is huge. It's available in 220 million households worldwide. And the current U.S. administration takes a decidedly different view, at least of the English-language channel -- particularly in the wake of its much-praised coverage of the Arab uprisings of early 2011.
Al-Jazeera English has been "really effective" at "changing people's minds and attitudes," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in March. "You may not agree with it, but you feel like you're getting real news around the clock, instead of a million commercials and, you know, arguments between talking heads and the kind of stuff that we do on our news."
Clinton may not have been endorsing Al-Jazeera's viewpoint, but she was clearly acknowledging its reputation for professional, serious journalism.
"Al-Jazeera English is a world news leader now," said David Marash, a longtime ABC correspondent who joined the channel as an anchor in 2006 but left two years later over "irreconcilable editorial differences." Despite the unhappy separation, Marash said in a recent interview that he urges Americans to give the channel a look. "Al-Jazeera English has more reporters in more places than anyone else," he noted.
And it tells stories that offer "visually stunning, deeply reported description of developments in dozens upon dozens of countries simultaneously," said an effusive Robert Kaplan in an article for The Atlantic titled "Why I Love Al Jazeera."
Al-Jazeera English will be simulcast for 23 hours a day on RISE and an hour a day on a separate channel.