Posted by on January 10, 2013 in Blog

After years of trying to break into the American market, the Qatari-based network Al Jazeera has bought the US channel Current TV, with plans to launch Al Jazeera America. It is estimated that the channel will reach 40 million homes in the US, as opposed to the current 4.7 million Al Jazeera English now reaches.  

Although the pan-Arab network currently has bureaus in New York, Washington, DC, Chicago, Miami, and Los Angeles, Al Jazeera has faced extensive opposition from American cable companies and policymakers that have claimed it lacks impartiality. Such concerns have been raised based on the network’s perceived sympathy with extremist causes and the fact that the network was owned and financed by the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa until 2011. However, the network has repeatedly denied such accusations, claiming editorial independence and objectivity since its inception. In a statement, the Director General of Al Jazeera Ahmed bin Jassim Al Thani insisted that “everyone at Al Jazeera takes great pride in the independence, impartiality, professionalism and courage of our journalism.”

Nonetheless, several cable companies have quickly dropped the network, including Time Warner, which claimed it was planning on dropping Current TV anyway and that the move was by no means politically motivated. While Time Warner has received some heat for its move, a HuffPost/YouGov poll has found that Americans approve of TimeWarner Cable’s decision to drop Current TV after being sold to Al Jazeera “by a nearly 2-to-1 plurality”. A majority of voters who approved of the decision self-identified as Republican and were weary of Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

Despite opposition from some, the network affirms that there is demand for a US-based channel, stating that “almost 40 percent of all online viewing of Al Jazeera English comes from the United States”. Al Thani added that “US viewers have clearly demonstrated that they like the way Al Jazeera provides compelling, in-depth news to audiences across the world” and expressed high hopes of bringing Al Jazeera to American homes. In a news release, he explained that "by acquiring Current TV, Al Jazeera will significantly expand our existing distribution footprint in the US, as well as increase our newsgathering and reporting efforts in America," adding, “we look forward to working together with our new cable and satellite partners to serve our new audiences across the US."

The network’s director general is not alone in hoping that Al Jazeera America will do well. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has also previously shown support for the network, by testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that “viewership of Al Jazeera is going up in the United States because it’s real news…you feel like you’re getting real news around the clock instead of a million commercials and arguments between talking heads.” Given the abundance of opinion-based news coverage in American mass media and a dearth of informative news coverage, perhaps Al Jazeera America might find success despite its lack of popularity among some Americans.

Al Gore, the creator of Current Television, had positive remarks about the turnover, stating that "Current Media was built based on a few key goals: to give voice to those who are not typically heard; to speak truth to power; to provide independent and diverse points of view; and to tell the stories that no one else is telling.” Gore believes Al Jazeera shares the same goals and “believes that facts and truth lead to a better understanding of the world around us."

Having already created significant buzz in the media world and beyond, monitoring ratings and views of Al Jazeera America will shed light on how ready the US really is for an Arab-owned news outlet.

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