The daily protests that continue to batter Egypt have had an interesting side effect — the emergence of the English version of a television/online network that previously was seen by Western media as an anti-American propaganda machine.
Al Jazeera, the Arabic network backed by the emir of Qatar, has had an English-language operation since 2006, but its on-the-spot coverage of the Egyptian revolt has been so integral to events that there seems to be a new interest in "Al Jazeera English," as the network calls the channel. Al Jazeera maintains separate Arabic- and English-language news operations but they work in tandem and share an "editorial spirit."
Some observers, reports the New York Times, wonder whether Al Jazeera has been influencing the Egyptian uprisings by televising them; indeed, Al Jazeera has featured 24/7 coverage and has continued to broadcast despite equipment being confiscated and arrests of its staff members.
Al Jazeera correspondents were said to be targeted by pro-Mubarak factions. While the network says it supports democracy, "we're not adopting the revolution," said Wadah Khanfar, director general of Al Jazeera.
During the Tunisia revolt, meanwhile, Al Jazeera was barred from having a news bureau present, so it reported tirelessly by using citizen video. Khanfar told the Times, "When our correspondents were banned, we had thousands of correspondents through these activists." He added that "there was a sort of partnership between those people on the ground and Al Jazeera."
It was the images of Egyptian raw street scenes broadcast by Al Jazeera that created a global interest in the story and in Al Jazeera itself. Those broadcasts, reports NPR, "undercut the Eyptian regime's self-serving arguments and stood in sharp contrast to the state-run TV channels... While Al Jazeera was showing hundreds of thousands of people calling for the end of the regime, Egyptian TV showed humdrum scenes of traffic quietly passing by."
Mustafa Souag, head of Al Jazeera's Arabic-language news, told NPR, "The regime did everything they could to make things difficult for us, but they did not succeed. We still had the most comprehensive reporting of the events in Egypt."
Some journalists such as veteran ABC correspondent Sam Donaldson applauded Al Jazeera's role, while others questioned it.
On ABC's This Week, Donaldson said, "People say Al Jazeera fanned the flames here by bringing the fact that democracy is in existence and that people are being suppressed. That's what we need. We need more communication in the world." But George Will doubted the influence of the network, saying that "we in the media tend to think the media drives the world, and I have a feeling this would be going on across this region regardless of the media."
But one thing is certain: the Al Jazeera brand has achieved prominence as the leading network covering both Tunisia and Egypt during this time of upheaval. Now the network is trying to leverage its latest success and grow its English language business.
The network says its English service already broadcasts to more than 220 million households in more than 100 countries, but it is looking to increase its penetration, particularly in the United States. For example, the network will soon be meeting with Comcast, according to the New York Times, and "renewed talks with the major distributors" are taking place.
Whether America's biggest cable operator will make room for the channel when it's the new owner of a stable of cable news brands as part of its NBCUniversal acquisition remains to be seen.
It's a new Al Jazeeera — and in a new era of Middle East turmoil, it may be just what people want to watch.
(Above: Al Jazeera segment on Wael Ghonim, the Egyptian Google executive and activist who was released on Monday after being arrested and held for 12 days.)