Talking heads block Al-Jazeera TV in U.S.-Zucker

Millions of Americans have turned to Al-Jazeera for coverage of the crisis in Egypt, but for the vast majority, that has meant turning to the Internet rather than their televisions.

Why? Former NBC Universal Chief Executive Jeff Zucker has a theory — U.S. cable operators are afraid of the talk show backlash that would result if they carried the channel, viewed by some as having an anti-American bias. Jeff Zucker

Jeff Zucker

“Some people would attack some of the distributors like Comcast and others who would carry it for being un-American for carrying Al-Jazeera,” said Zucker, who stepped down as CEO of NBC at the end of January when General Electric Co closed on its sale of a majority stake in the media operation to Comcast Corp. “That’s part of what the problem is, which is incredibly unfortunate.”

Al-Jazeera says some 3.5 million U.S. viewers have turned to its live Web feed since Egyptians took to the streets to call for the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, who has ruled that country for three decades.

During an hour-long talk on the state of the media at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Zucker discussed the rivalry between NBC’s cable news channel MSNBC, which has carved out a left-leaning niche, and its main rival News Corp’s Fox News Channel, on the right.

Witness Al Jazeera English’s latest U.S. move

Al Jazeera English, part of the international Al Jazeera Arabic-language news network, hasn’t had it too easy in the United States, where it has encountered suspicion for being — in a word — Arabic.

Now, in a bid to increase its presence in more U.S. homes and show Americans what the network is really all about, the service will distribute its half-hour documentary series Witness through a deal with Link TV. According to the press release, that will make Witness available in more than 30 million U.S. homes via cable and satellite providers DirecTV and Dish Network.

Here is Witness in Al Jazeera’s own words:

Hosted by Rageh Omar, Witness is a half hour documentary program that brings world issues into focus through courageous, human stories and provocative debate. Each documentary reveals the unknown lives of ordinary people, telling their stories and portraying the challenges that confront them.