Has Middle East turmoil reserved a slot for Al Jazeera on US television?

Facebook and Twitter have taken bows for their parts in the youth-driven upheaval in the Middle East. Now the Al Jazeera network is pressing its case for better access to the US cable market.

Fadi al-Assaad/Reuters/File
The logo of Qatar-based Al Jazeera satellite news channel is seen in Doha in this February 7 file photo.

The tumult sweeping the Middle East since January has brought new notoriety to Facebook and Twitter, as the youth fueling much of the region’s liberating “Spring” turned to social media to get out the word on their protests and demands.

The events from Tunisia and Egypt to Yemen and now Libya also shined a spotlight on Al Jazeera, as the Qatar-based news network used its well-positioned reporters to garner scoops and become, almost overnight, a new must-view for millions of global citizens interested in the big Middle East story.

The problem for viewers in the US searching their cable listings for Al Jazeera English is that, by and large, they won’t find it. Other than with a few exceptions, Al Jazeera English is shut out of US cable markets.

IN PICTURES: Libya protests

But that may be about to change. This week Al Jazeera executives – armed with evidence they say proves American demand – are meeting with cable providers including Comcast, Time Warner, and Cablevision, to press their case for a slot on major US cable listings.

Al Ansley, the managing director of Al Jazeera English – or AJE as it calls itself – arrived at Comcast headquarters in Philadelphia Tuesday with boxes of thousands of printed emails from Americans demanding TV access to AJE (currently Al Jazeera English can be viewed online). According to an Al Jazeera statement, Mr. Ansley was to continue his meetings – and box-toting – Wednesday with other cable companies.

Al Jazeera is up-front about the fact that all those emails – over 40,000, it claims – were generated by a campaign the news network launched on its website, asking Americans to register their support for AJE getting US airtime.

But even if the emails were shamelessly solicited for the company’s purposes, the outpouring of interest still marks a notable turnaround for the news network.

Not so long ago, it seems, Al Jazeera was widely viewed as the “terrorist network” because it broadcast video statements from Al Qaeda. And Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly still considers the new network “anti-Semitic and anti-American,” as he said in a January broadcast.

Nevertheless – and with scoops coming out of Al Jazeera like one Wednesday reporting that Muammar Qaddafi’s daughter was on a Libyan plane that sought to land in Malta but was turned back – it seems more Americans are now clamoring for access to a news source that once struck fear in more than a few hearts.

IN PICTURES: Libya protests

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