Egypt Clamps Down on Al Jazeera

Cairo bureau shuttered, journalists detained, equipment seized

Al Jazeera — which has been delivering by far the most comprehensive coverage of the uprising in Egypt of any cable network — finds itself under a government-led attack there.

Six of its journalists were briefly detained in Egypt and released Monday, the network said. (Their equipment, however, was not.)

The arrest comes a day after the Qatar-based network was told to shut down its bureau and had its signal to some parts of the Middle East cut off.

Also read: World Media Watches as Egypt Explodes

The Committee to Protect Journalists immediately called on the Egyptian government to reverse its decision to pull the plug on Al Jazeera. "By banning Al Jazeera, the government is trying to limit the circulation of TV footage of the six-day-old wave of protests," press freedom fighters Reporters Without Borders added.

Al Jazeera, however, says it is undeterred. "If anything, our resolve to get the story has increased,” the network said in a statement. "Al Jazeera sees this as an act designed to stifle and repress the freedom of reporting by the network and its journalists. In this time of deep turmoil and unrest in Egyptian society it is imperative that voices from all sides be heard; the closing of our bureau by the Egyptian government is aimed at censoring and silencing the voices of the Egyptian people.”

For the moment, the network is using fixed cameras, phone reports and Twitter to continue its reporting, and urging “the country's citizens to use blogs, social media, eyewitness accounts, and videos to tell the world” how the protests against President Mubarak are progressing, CNET noted.

Meanwhile in the U.S., where Al Jazeera English is largely unavailable, some prominent media pundits are urging cable companies to put the channel on the air.

“What the Gulf War was to CNN, the people's revolutions of the Middle East are to Al Jazeera English,” noted blogger and new media columnist Jeff Jarvis wrote in a post. “But in the U.S., in a sad vestige of the era of Freedom Fries, hardly anyone can watch the channel on cable TV. Cable companies: Add Al Jazeera English NOW!”

That won’t likely happen anytime soon. As TVNewser editor Alex Weprin pointed out, cable carriage deals, “even relatively inexpensive ones (as AJE would be) are a long process. Cable providers need to find channel space for the network, contracts need to be drawn out, and a monthly carriage fee agreed upon. These types of discussions take weeks, at the very least, and often take months.”

He added: “Even if negotiations started today, by the time AJE was actually available, the crisis in Egypt” could very well be over.

In the meantime, Americans (like John Cusack) are left to follow the network’s streaming live feed online.