Why Al Jazeera is ending its U.S. stream, and how you can keep watching

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The live feed of Al Jazeera English playing on a laptop computer. (Photo: The Desk)

The live feed of Al Jazeera English playing on a laptop computer. (Photo: The Desk)

Al Jazeera America confirmed via a spokesperson on Friday that the online stream for its English-language international service will be blocked in the United States upon the launch of the company’s domestic news channel.

For years, the American perspective of Al Jazeera was skewed, with many assuming the channel was sympathetic of terrorists when it ran videos of Osama bin Laden that it had obtained from al Qaeda. The channel also received criticism from U.S. government officials during the start of the Iraq war for airing video depicting the deaths of several U.S. troops (during the war, the United States bombed Al Jazeera’s Baghdad office, killing journalist Tariq Ayoub). Despite little evidence to the assertion, the perception that the Qatar-based news organization had an anti-American mission  kept Al Jazeera English off U.S. cable and satellite systems for years after it launched in 2006.

Al Jazeera English circumvented normal carriage negotiations with U.S. cable and satellite companies by broadcasting its signal direct to viewers on the internet, and was one of the first international broadcasters to do so. In early 2012, the network was able to reverse its negative image when it began covering the Arab Spring protests around the clock. Al Jazeera found an audience in the United States who tuned in to the channel on LiveStation and on YouTube. A news service that was once ostracized by American journalists and politicians was now praised for its tenacious coverage of events in the Middle East.

A campaign was launched to bring Al Jazeera English into more American homes (currently, it can be seen on cable systems in New York, Washington and Toledo, Ohio). The campaign failed to move the needle with many cable and satellite companies in the United States, leaving the internet as the only viable way to view the channel.

In January, the Wall Street Journal reported Al Jazeera would temporarily shut off its stream in April while plans for Al Jazeera America were in the works. The move was likely a strategy to shift American attention off its international service and on to its domestic offering. April came and went, the shut off never happened and it was assumed that Al Jazeera’s English stream would remain a free offering for American viewers.

That assumption was wrong — on Friday, a spokesperson with Al Jazeera confirmed the satellite news network plans to geographically block its English stream in the United States. The stream is set to be blocked on August 20th when Al Jazeera America replaces Current TV (the English stream will, presumably, still be available to viewers outside the U.S.).

Many people are now wondering how to watch international news online after Al Jazeera English restricts its stream in late August. There are many ways to continue watching Al Jazeera English and other news channels in the United States:

  • Virtually “move” to another country: For a small charge, a person can bypass geographic restrictions by using a Virtual Private Network like Overplay to connect to a remote computer located somewhere else in the world. Some use VPNs to watch foreign programming on websites like BBC iPlayer and Hulu, others use it to watch live sporting events around the world (VPNs became popular in the United States last year as a way of watching the Olympic games on the BBC’s website). VPNs are legal to use for online video streaming.
  • Watch a different live news service: Though Al Jazeera English is one of the more popular online news streams in the United States, it is certainly not the only one available. Russia’s RT, Iran’s Press TV, Japan’s NHK World, France 24, Germany’s Deutsche Welle and the financial news channel Bloomberg all offer English news streams online for free. Recently, Britain’s Sky News also made its free international news stream available in the United States. The website LiveStation also aggregates many online news channels in both English and native languages. Click here to see a list of alternatives to Al Jazeera English.

Finally, U.S.-based viewers can contact their cable or satellite company to demand Al Jazeera English. For more information, visit the Demand Al Jazeera English webpage.

(An earlier version of this article encouraged viewers to invest in free-to-air satellite equipment to watch Al Jazeera English in the United States. Multiple people with FTA satellite have reported that Al Jazeera English recently became an encrypted channel on Galaxy 19 and is no longer offered for the general public. Using a virtual private network like Overplay remains the most viable way to access Al Jazeera English’s online stream.)

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