WASHINGTON — The English channel of Al Jazeera, which has been the subject of praise and criticism from US officials, was named Wednesday as the winner of a prestigious journalism award from Columbia University.

Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism said Al Jazeera English was being honored with the Columbia Journalism Award which recognizes an individual or organization for "singular journalism in the public interest."

The New York-based university said the journalism school's faculty selected the English channel of the Pan-Arab television network for the "overall depth and quality of its peerless coverage of the ongoing protests in the Middle East."

"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 Nicholas Lemann, dean of Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism.

"We salute its determination to get to the heart of a complicated story unfolding in countries where news has historically been difficult to cover," Lemann said.

Al Anstey, the managing editor of Al Jazeera English, will accept the award, which was established in 1958, and speak to the 2011 graduating class, the school said.

Previous winners of the award include legendary CBS television news anchor Walter Cronkite and Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham.

Former US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld once famously denounced Al Jazeera for its reporting from Iraq, calling it "vicious, inaccurate and inexcusable."

Rumsfeld was referring at the time to the Arabic-language channel of the Qatar-based Al Jazeera, which was launched in November 1996. The network launched its English language service in November 2006.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised Al Jazeera recently for providing "real news" and showing up other US news networks.

"You've got a set of global networks that Al Jazerra has been the leader in that are literally changing people's minds or attitudes," Clinton said during Senate testimony in March.

"And like it or hate it, it is really effective," she said. "In fact, viewership of Al-Jazeera's going up in the United States because it's real news.

"You may not agree with it, but you feel like you're getting real news around the clock instead of a million commercials and, you know, arguments between talking heads and the kind of stuff that we do on our news which is not particularly informative to us, let alone foreigners," she said.