Why the Hell Doesn't America Have Al Jazeera Yet?
The chart above is the growth, over the course of one month, of news outlet Al Jazeera's web traffic, according to Compete.com. In December 2010, the Qatar-funded site had about 533,000 unique visitors. By the end of January, when revolts in Tunisia and Egypt were capturing the attention of the whole world, that number had more than doubled. Though Compete doesn't yet have stats for February, it's likely that readership will have gone up even more by the end of this month, during which demonstrations around the Arab states have been covered more competently by Al Jazeera than any other professional news organization going. That steep blue line speaks volumes, and it's asking, "Why aren't we broadcasting Al Jazeera in America?"
In a new interview with the Al Jazeera Arabic channel's Washington bureau chief, Abderrahim Foukara, called "Why the U.S. Needs Al Jazeera," Time asks Foukara whether his company's meteoric success of late has been due in part to American support. The answer was definitively yes:
The amount of support we've received from Americans has been truly phenomenal. We're talking about more than 40,000 e-mails of support over the space of a week, which is testimony to the vibrancy and diversity of opinion in the U.S.
The fear of Al Jazeera broadcasting in America is, of course, that it's an "activist channel," and, beyond that, that it's a Muslim channel. To be sure, because it's sponsored by the government of Qatar—a relatively stable Arab state, but also one that lives under Sharia law—Al Jazeera does have close ties to the Muslim world. But Foukara says rather than question his outlet's objectivity, it's better to abandon completely the notion that any outlet is objective: "If you are an American network broadcasting from the U.S., you will be broadcasting with a sensibility which may not look necessarily objective to an audience in another part of the world. And the same is true if you're a network like Al Jazeera Arabic."
Biased or not, the only issue that matters when discussing if Al Jazeera belongs in the United States is the same issue at the heart of all media businesses: Is it what the consumers want? And it's clear that the consumers want Al Jazeera.
In a time when the Arab world is vitally important to American prosperity, it makes no sense to deny a major platform to the best news organization going in that region, and one of the best in the world. Or, to quote Foukara himself, "We cannot live in a world where a story like Egypt—which has consequences for the whole world—is unfolding and your audience doesn't know anything about it or enough about it."