Give AJAM a chance

Access to Al Jazeera America must be increased.

Bronwyn Miller

In the wake of its Aug. 20 launch, a lot has been said about the news network Al Jazeera America. Depending on who you listen to, it’s either a “mouthpiece of global terrorism” or the remedy to everything that’s wrong with American journalism — or something in between.

The best way to decide where your opinion on the network lies is to tune in. But that task might be easier said than done. Even with an $85-per-month Comcast bill, AJAM on channel 107 is not available at my apartment. CNN, Fox News, CNBC, HLN and MSNBC are all included in our base cable package — yet, as a customer service representative explained to me, AJAM requires an upgrade to the Digital Preferred tier.

DIRECTV and DISH subscribers with equivalent services may face the same unfortunate outcome trying to access channels 358 and 215, respectively — and that’s just the issue with the cable operators that have actually agreed to carry the network.

Time Warner Cable nixed the channel from its offerings earlier in the year, as soon as Al Jazeera announced it was buying Current TV’s network space. Then, just hours before AJAM launched a few weeks ago, AT&T announced that its U-verse pay-TV service would also be canning the channel. The decisions of these providers automatically prevents 17 million subscribers from even entertaining the possibility of adding AJAM to their news diets.

Mature media consumers were already familiar with Al Jazeera and may even have been using Al Jazeera English, the international English-language news channel and website that spun off from the original Arabic network in 2006. AJE, with what has been called “fearless journalism,” has won countless prestigious awards in its eight years of operation.

However, those of us accustomed to tuning into the award-winning broadcasts online are now faced with a disappointing message on the AJE site: “The Al Jazeera English live stream is no longer available in the U.S.”

In order to get cable and satellite companies to provide the new AJAM network, Al Jazeera had to agree to remove the well-established AJE live stream from U.S. households in both its cable and online forms. Even iTunes, mobile and tablet access has been problematic.

We are no longer included in the English-speaking world that AJE serves; AJAM’s 24-hour TV coverage is supposed to be our new go-to. What was imagined as a more inclusive and relevant service for people in the U.S. has instead left many of us in the dark.

It’s a sad irony. The network that strives to “give voice to untold stories” is speaking to a nearly empty room, and accessing a viable alternative to the sensationalized, ratings-driven infotainment that we have come to accept as “news” proves to be but a pipe dream. Too few of us will have the chance to assess AJAM’s goal of serving as a necessary reprieve from the hyper-partisan, argumentative, pundit-based cable news networks.

Whether the inaccessibility of AJAM reflects persistent Islamophobia or simply the extent of the power that media conglomerates hold over our media landscape is unknown. Whatever the root of the issue, we — the people in desperate need of the news diversity that AJAM could offer — are missing out. The fact that my starter cable package grants me unfettered access to “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo,” “Married to Jonas” and “I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant” but not to the only network still truly invested in investigative journalism is a tragedy.