Al Jazeera now streaming on TV in U.S. via Roku

By Steve Safran Comment

Roku, the streaming video player company, has added the live feed of Al Jazeera to its offerings. For mostly political reasons, US cable companies are reluctant to offer the Qatar-based news network. But the crisis in Egypt has shown Al Jazeera to be an excellent news organization, and many people are now calling upon their cable providers to add it. Simply put – Al Jazeera is proving the best coverage of the Egypt crisis. Stepping into the fray comes Roku, which is now offering Al Jazeera for those who have their player and are interested in the service.

Of course, if you have a browser on your TV set — via your computer or Google TV, for example — you can watch Al Jazeera via the live stream on its website. YouTube is also offering a live feed of Al Jazeera, but we’re unable to bring it up in the YouTube Leanback experience, which is customized for TV.

Why won’t US cable and satellite companies provide Al Jazeera? Brian Stelter at Media Decoder asked 10 of them. They won’t really answer. Some typical comments:

Dish Network: “We don’t carry Al Jazeera English. We do carry Al Jazeera Arabic and Al Jazeera Sport in our Arabic packages.” (Which makes us wonder: If people fear that terrorists may be cultivated from within the US, why is providing the Arabic channel OK?)

Cablevision: “Cablevision is always evaluating the channels we carry, based on consumer interest and other factors.”

Cox: “I can confirm that Cox does not carry Al Jazeera English on our cable line-up.”

The Roku move neatly tapdances around at least some of the political blowback a cable company might get. Getting Al Jazeera onto your Roku takes a few steps, including a download of Roku Newscaster from its online store. So, unlike a cable channel, reception of Al Jazeera is entirely voluntary. Those sensitive to the network need not fear accidentally putting it on with the cable remote. By doing so, Roku is making a statement: If cable won’t run it, we will. (And, presumably, even if cable will run it, we will too.)

We join our many colleagues who are calling for cable and satellite companies to provide Al Jazeera as an option. Americans shouldn’t – and mostly don’t – fear information, regardless of its origin. We’re at our best when we allow points of view with which we may disagree.