Starting today, Chicagoans have cable access to news from Al Jazeera English. The Qatar-based channel will air its international coverage on local public television station WTTW. WTTW11 and WTTW Prime will carry 30 minutes of Al Jazeera English on weekdays at 6:30am and 11pm, and an hour on Saturdays at 5:30am. Chicagoans may already catch AJE on a digital subchannel of public television station WYCC, but AJE officials expect to reach a much wider audience through the new cable distributor.
Since it launched its English language channel in 2006, Al Jazeera has failed to find a national distributor. It was saddled with a bad reputation brought on by criticism by some administration officials under former President George W. Bush. They characterized AJE's older, sister, Arabic-language channel as an anti-American, pro-terrorist propaganda unit during the earlier years of the Iraq war.
But that perception began changing with AJE's coverage of prodemocracy uprisings in the Middle East. Amjad Atallah, AJE's Bureau Chief of the Americas, says American viewers began watching AJE's live webstream to keep track of the protests, bumping up the channel's online traffic by 2500 per cent. The channel also won a prestigious journalism award from Columbia University. The company has strongly touted its debut on a Chicago cable channel. "We do consider this a big stepping stone," said Atallah, "and WTTW is a fantastic channel to partner with."