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Columbia University Awards Top Journalism Prize to Al Jazeera English

Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism will bestow its highest honor to Al Jazeera English, the university announced Wednesday.

The Columbia Journalism Award is given annually during the school's commencement to recognize an individual or organization for "singular journalism in the public interest," according to a press release. It will mark only the second time that the award is being given to an organization.

"Al Jazeera English has performed a great service in bringing the English-speaking world in-depth coverage of the turmoil in the Middle East," said Dean Nicholas Lemann. "We salute its determination to get to the heart of a complicated story unfolding in countries where news has historically been difficult to cover."

The school’s faculty, which selects the awardees, voted for Al Jazeera English for the "overall depth and quality of its peerless coverage of the ongoing protests in the Middle East," the release continued. Al Antsey, managing editor of Al Jazeera English, will accept the award and address the school's graduating class of 2011 on May 18.

Elizabeth Fishman, the school's associate dean of communications, told FoxNews.com the selection was made during a private faculty meeting. Past winners of the Columbia Journalism Award, which was established in 1958,  include Walter Cronkite and Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham. The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour was the first outlet to win the award in 1993.

Dan Gainor, vice president of business and culture at the Media Research Center, a conservative watchdog group, told FoxNews.com he wasn't surprised by the selection.

“It isn't surprising that the liberal and Soros-funded Columbia Journalism School is also fond of the anti-American Al Jazeera," Gainor said in a statement. "Promoting Al Jazeera has become a new media cause célèbre, especially at The New York Times where criticism of America is a badge of honor. But awarding a state-funded propaganda network that supports radicals in the Arab Street cheapens what is left of the Columbia Journalism School name."

Based in Doha, Qatar, Al Jazeera English was launched in November 2006. Al Jazeera now broadcasts to more than 220 million households on six continents in more than 100 countries, according to its website.

"Our mission is to provide independent, impartial news for an international audience and to offer a voice to a diversity of perspectives from under-reported regions," the website reads. "In addition, the channel aims to balance the information flow between the South and the North. The channel of reference for the Middle East and Africa, Al Jazeera has unique access to some of the world’s most troubled and controversial locations."

The entire 24-hour channel of Al Jazeera English, however, is only offered in three U.S. television markets, the largest in Washington, to a possible audience of 2.4 million, according to the network. It can also be watched streaming live at www.livestation.com/aje.

Al Jazeera English has received several nominations and awards for news coverage from many organizations, including the International Emmys, The Royal Television Society, The Monte Carlo Film Festival, YouTube, The Foreign Press Association, The Association of International Broadcasters and Amnesty International, according to its website.

In 2007, Columbia University was criticized for hosting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for a speaking engagement during which he repeated his inference that historical accounts of the Holocaust are myths and denied that there are homosexuals in Iran.

Columbia President Lee Bollinger opened the program with a blistering introduction of Ahmadinejad, calling him a "petty and cruel" dictator.

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