The Good Old Days: Lighting up in an Egyptian coffee shop to images of President Obama and President Hosni Mubarak, back in 2009. (David Silverman/Getty Images)
There is little question that the most compelling, most complete and immediate coverage of the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt this month have been provided by Al-Jazeera, the Qatar-based Arab and English satellite all-news channel. The coverage on the English channel has been relatively even, appealing neither to sensationalism nor hyperbole--not only because neither is necessary, given that the stories in the streets need no amplification, but because stereotypical American criticism of al-Jazeera, never more accurate than itself sensationalistic, is outdated.
So outdated, in fact, that something that something unheard of during the Bush administration seemed a normal reaction by the Obama Administration: when Egyptian police seized six al-Jazeera employees and their equipment, and revoked al-Jazeera's accreditation in Egypt, the U.S. State Department lashed out--and won the release of the employees. Quite a turn-around from the times when the U.S. military was itself targeting al-Jazeera employees.
Al-Jazeera's coverage is on the ground: what protesters in Tahrir Square are saying and demanding, what Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's latest moves mean (and generally don't mean: al-Jazeera's descriptions of Mubarak's alternate universe have been quite on point), what the Egyptian army's tenor and intentions have been, how people around the square are policing the entry to the demonstration grounds to prevent "agents provocateurs" from triggering a violent incident. Al-Jazeera has also provided strong coverage of other cities in Egypt (Alexandria, Suez), and adds the Washington perspective frequently. But it also keeps that perspective in its place, reflecting the degree to which American influence and respectability have fallen in Arab eyes.
For all that, one reality remains in the United States: al-Jazeera is difficult to find. A New York Times headline and video report summed up al-Jazeera's paradoxical rising star in the United States: "Al Jazeera's Egypt Coverage Is Deep, but Hard to Find."
"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," The Times reports. "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." The satellite and cable carriers are, of course, full of it: they cannot justify carrying dozens of redundant food networks, shopping networks, religious channels and all-night-paid-programming networks and still say that they don;t have space on their spectrum for al-Jazeera. The absence of the station is almost certainly an indication of a calculated decision designed not to offend the carriers' more reactionary viewers than to balance technological limitations with popular demand.
Lacking that, you can access al-Jazeera's live stream directly through the web.
And if you have DirectTV or Dish Network, you can still access al-Jazeera through another wonderful secret of the television universe in the United States: LinkTV, which I've written about here previously and admiringly. LinkTV began carrying a half-hour feed of Al-Jazeera English back in 2009, at 10 p.m. These days, it's been carrying much longer feeds of the events in Egypt. It's available on Direct TV, Channel 375, and on the Dish Network, Channel 9410. You can follow LinkTV's web-based updates here.
LinkTV also offers a nightly newscast called Mosaic, of the entire Middle East's best news reports, station by station, country by country, with English translation.
In short, the revolution is being televised. And one way or another, it's easily accessible. No need to comply with your satellite or cable TV provider's limitations (and prejudices. You could even make your own small revolution and start demonstrating by email, demanding from Direct TV and Dish and the rest of them to quit living in the 1950s and add al-Jazeera to their lineup.