White House officials have turned to Al Jazeera English among other television channels to monitor the mounting protests in Egypt. But most Americans lack the same ability to tune in to the broadcaster, which is based in Qatar, because cable and satellite companies in the United States have largely refused its requests to be carried.With the network’s coverage of the crisis drawing praise, however, Al Jazeera executives said Monday that they planned to renew their lobbying to be carried on cable systems across the United States.
“I sincerely hope now is the turning point,” Al Anstey, the managing director of Al Jazeera English, said by telephone from Doha, Qatar. The channel has won some American fans in recent days because of its live stream on the Internet, which has garnered more than 1.6 million views in the United States.
If major cable and satellite companies like Comcast and DirecTV are willing to carry Al Jazeera English, they were not willing to say so on Monday. Some of the companies said in statements that they have to balance the requests of many channels that want space on an already-crowded line-up of channels.
Al Jazeera English, however, is indisputably unique. In recent days, the channel, an offshoot of the main Arabic-language Al Jazeera, has gained attention for its up-close, around-the-clock coverage of the protests in Cairo, Alexandria, Suez and other cities in Egypt.
While American television networks were scrambling to move reporters and producers into Cairo, the Al Jazeera channels were already there. The other networks have noticed: on the roundtable portion of ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday, Sam Donaldson looked at an Al Jazeera reporter and said, “Thank you for what you’re doing.”
Al Jazeera began its English channel in 2006. It is generally accessible to viewers around the world, Mr. Anstey said. Inside the United States, however, there is full access in only a handful of cities: Washington D.C., Burlington, Vt. and Toledo, Ohio.
Mr. Anstey said he thought that the channel had suffered from “some misconceptions about what Al Jazeera stood for.” During the Iraq war, the Arabic-language channel was criticized by Bush administration officials, and as recently as Friday the conservative Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly branded Al Jazeera as “anti-America.”
But that view has been largely drowned out by people like Mr. Donaldson who have hoisted up Al Jazeera English for its protest coverage. Traffic to the English-language Web site has increased by 2,500 percent since Friday, Mr. Anstey said.
Mohamed Nanabhay, the head of online for the English language channel, said the Web site’s live stream had been viewed over 4 million times since Friday, and that 1.6 million of those views have come from the United States. “It’s just a testament to the fact that Americans do care about foreign news,” he said.
Furthering access to Al Jazeera English, on Monday YouTube started promoting its own live stream.
Some of the cable companies pointed to the live Web streams as evidence that cable carriage is less of an imperative. But the channel’s American supporters say that the stream is not equivalent to a channel in a cable line-up, and that by declining to pick up Al Jazeera English, cable and satellite companies are effectively restricting Americans’ views of the world.
Mr. Anstey’s channel has been holding meetings “at various levels” with cable and satellite companies since it started up in 2006. In statements that echoed one another on Monday, the companies said they receive requests from many channels for carriage. “We make those requests part of our decision making process,” said a spokeswoman for Verizon FiOS.
Said a spokeswoman for Time Warner Cable, “We remain willing to talk with them, or any other programming provider, for carriage of their network.”