Gadhafi's body, reported by al Jazeera
Even though Al-Jazeera English has been broadcasting from downtown Washington DC since 2006, it is only readily available in a handful of cities including Toledo, OH, Burlington VT, D.C., Bristol RI and New York. Reuters

Last year's Arab Spring enthralled viewers around the globe. People long choked by the sclerotic hand of aging dictators were filmed rising up to overthrow decades of repression in a matter of months.

Some of the best pictures, scoops and breaking news, however, did not come from traditional outlets.

Qatar-based news channel Al-Jazeera, and its sister site Al Jazeera English, burst onto the scene with incisive and daring reports as first Tunisia, then Egypt and finally Libya succumbed to revolution and, sadly, bloodshed. The coverage was so good that the channel even gained an endorsement from U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, who, standing before a Senate Foreign Relations committee in May, said the network was, 'changing peoples' minds and attitudes... like it or hate it, it is really effective.'

'Viewership of Al Jazeera is going up in the United States because it's real news,' she added.

'You may not agree with it, but you feel like you're getting real news around the clock instead of a million commercials and arguments between talking heads.'

The network has since gone on to win a clutch of awards.

On Thursday it was named as News Channel of the Year at the Royal Television Society Awards of Britain -- the industry's Oscars -- and has won numerous accolades for its coverage of the forgotten uprising in Bahrain, including a prestigious George Polk Award for the documentary Shouting In The Dark.

The network's coverage from Cairo's Tahrir Square during the Egyptian uprising was also widely lauded as the best by any network and they even scooped every global news service as the first to report the death of Col. Muammar Gaddafi in Libya.

But despite all the awards and plaudits, the channel is practically nonexistent in the U.S.

Even though Al-Jazeera English has been broadcasting from downtown Washington, D.C., since 2006, it is only readily available in a handful of cities including Toledo, Ohio; Burlington Vt.; Bristol, R.I., Washington and New York - a glaring omission in a country that holds dear the right to choose.

Frustrated by this lack of choice, grassroots organization Rethink Press last week handed a petition with more than 23,000 signatures to the country's largest cable provider, Comcast, demanding they show Al Jazeera on their networks. Al Jazeera also has its own, less activist campaign to get itself broadcast in the U.S.

But according to media experts, these efforts may prove fruitless, as controversy-shy cable providers prefer to maintain the Al Jazeera blackout.

'When you get conservative-oriented folks such as Comcast, and companies that have a Christian orientation, that combination leaves them uncomfortable with an Islamic-oriented network,' said Lance Strate, professor of communications and media studies at Fordham University in the Bronx, N.Y.

'Generally the reason given is 9/11, which gives cable networks the perception that their customers would see the inclusion of an Arabic network as a bad thing. This coupled, with the support for Israel among many Christian groups, is a powerful combination.'

According to Strate, cable companies also have an arrogance when it comes to deciding what to include in their packages and are not even listening to their consumers on non-controversial issues, so when it comes to controversial issues they are certainly not obligated.

But more than that they are, in Strate's words, timid giants, 'always afraid of offending someone.'

Of course, Al Jazeera has gained high-profile enemies in the U.S. as well. Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld famously labeled the channel's coverage of civilian deaths during the Iraq war as, vicious, inaccurate and inexcusable. In an interview with the channel last year, Rumsfeld famously descended into a shouting match with presenter Abderrahim Foukara, calling him pejorative and disrespectful.

In spite of the political obstacles, one of the founders of Rethink Press, Xi Wang, was confident the Comcast petition would have an impact.

'The most important part of our action is to provide access,' she said.

'Influencing public opinion will evolve in an organic way. Once you start watching something, it is a lot easier to dispel any fears you may have.'

'If it were to be shown, a lot of Americans might realize just how partial U.S. news networks are.'

The question remains, however, is mainstream America ready for the type of straight reporting Al Jazeera contains? If the networks caved in and channel went national, would it gather a wide enough audience to change news broadcasting in the U.S.?

'I really doubt that it would have any impact at all,' Strate mused.

'It would get a self-selected audience in much the same way conservatives watch Fox and liberals watch MSNBC. Which is really an argument for allowing it in a way, as it really wouldn't have that much of an impact.'

But according to Wang, Al Jazeera may have found a more surreptitious method of winning American hearts and minds.

'When we were handing in the petition at Comcast, I met American soldiers who were based in Iraq,' she said.

'One of the soldiers said he didn't know what Al Jazeera was until he got there and that a lot of soldiers got their news from it. They found it amazing how different the news was presented there to how it is in the U.S.'

Ultimately, however, it may not even be a question of politics or numbers, but irrational fear.

'It is not the commercial aspect that stands in the way, but a concern among the cable providers of how many customers they may lose by offering it,' Strate concluded.

'You don't want to offend your audience, for fear of losing them.'