Sale of Current TV to create Al Jazeera America has Americans talking about international broadcasting.

Posted: 05 Jan 2013   Print   Send a link
Al jazeera English, 4 Jan 2013, Rory O'Connor: "Welcome to America, Al Jazeera! Sounds good, right? And it is, both for American audiences, starved for real news about what's going on in the world around them but plagued instead with a surfeit of gossip, celebrity doings and opinionated bloviators from both the right and left on such putative cable 'news' channels such as Fox and MSNBC, and for Al Jazeera itself, which will only extend its global influence by finally gaining a foothold in two crucial American marketplaces - that of commerce, of course, but also that of ideas. ... The final challenge for Al Jazeera, of course - the proof of the pudding, as it were - will come when we see the tenor and quality of the programming AJ America produces. Will its executives focus on offering another and fresher perspective to America's abysmal domestic news sources, in the mode of Russia Today or the BBC World News, now available in 25 million US homes after a recent deal with Time Warner Cable?" -- He's equating Russia Today (RT) and BBC? I would put RT with Fox and MSNBC, and BBC World News with CNN International and France 24.

New York Times, 3 Jan 2013, editorial: "Al Jazeera often brings a nuance to international stories that can be lacking on American networks, because it has more foreign correspondents and overseas bureaus than many established Western networks. Its coverage of the Arab Spring won a George Foster Peabody Award and its English-language service is broadcast to more than 250 million homes in 130 countries, including Britain, South Africa and India. Doubts about the independence of Al Jazeera do not justify removing it from cable and satellite systems. With the exception of a few places, like Washington and New York City, Al Jazeera English is not available to most American viewers. Why not let them make up their own minds about the network and its journalism?"

New York Daily News, 4 Jan 2013, David Hinckley: "My own research, consisting solely of my instinct, says if Al Jazeera English were giving away a Cadillac Escalade to the first 100 viewers every day, Americans still wouldn’t watch. Sad but true, branding today is everything. Al Jazeera’s brand is that it was the go-to network for video messages from Al Qaeda in the wake of 9/11. Way too many Americans make that association way too readily for them to ever take a step back and say what Al Jazeera wants to hear, which is, 'Here’s a network that gives us a perspective we won’t get anywhere else. Let’s give it a try.'"

Baltimore Sun, 4 Jan 2013, David Zurawik: "What’s important is that Al Jazeera has found a way into an estimated 40 million American homes through the purchase of Gore's mismanaged channel, and that is a good thing – a very good thing. In fact, the cable industry’s success in keeping Al Jazeera English off all but a handful of systems in the U.S. was one of the great wrongs of American media. And no one, it seems, wanted to address it. Media critics who looked the other way for whatever reasons should be ashamed. In August, Al Jazeera English offered a powerful documentary, 'Baltimore: Anatomy of an American City,' on the politics and sociology of Baltimore’s war on drugs. In reporting on the documentary, I became outraged that viewers in Baltimore would not be able to see it on cable TV. I had been a fan of Al Jazeera for its coverage of the Middle East for years, but this hit much closer to home. This was an informed and provocative critique of urban life, and viewers who could be enlightened about the city in which they lived were denied access to it."

Ha'aretz, 4 Jan 2013, Chemi Shalev: "American Jewish leaders have expressed 'concern' about the impending entry of the Qatari-owned Al Jazeera network to the U.S. television market, citing its record of anti-Israeli coverage and support for extremist Muslim regimes. Both Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents and Abe Foxman, head of the Anti-Defamation League publicly voiced their apprehensions on Friday in the wake of reports that former U.S. Vice President Al Gore had sold his Current TV network to Al-Jazeera for $500 million. The sale will allow Al Jazeera to gain access to tens of millions of American homes in which Current TV had been available through various cable providers. Hoenlein said that although the network’s English-language coverage has been more balanced and had given a platform to Israeli spokesperson, 'their general coverage has served to destabilize regimes and favor some of the more extremist elements in the Arab world.' Foxman was even harsher in his criticism of the station, saying in an official ADL communiqué that 'Al Jazeera has a troubling record and history that is very disturbing, particularly in its Arabic language broadcasts. It has exploited and exaggerated the Arab-Israel conflict in a heavy-handed and propagandistic manner, and always at the expense of Israel, while giving all manner of virulent anti-Israel and even anti-Semitic extremists access to its airwaves.' Both Hoenlein and Foxman, however, stopped short of calling for any public campaign or legal intervention in the sale. Hoenlein told Haaretz that according to legal advice he had received, there was no way to prevent the 'merger' between Al Jazeera and Current TV anyway."

Anti-Defamation league press release, 4 Jan 2013: "The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has ongoing concerns about the pan-Arab satellite network Al Jazeera, which it says has 'a troubling record' of providing a platform to all manner of virulent anti-Israel and even anti-Semitic extremists, and of serving as a propaganda tool against the State of Israel, particularly in its Arabic-language broadcasts. While it is true that Al Jazeera has toned down its anti-Israel propaganda in the network's English broadcasts, ADL said the Arabic-language channel's content 'continues to be of great concern.'"

Washington Post, 4 Jan 2013, Gary Wasserman: "With its alleged positions against U.S. foreign policies and wars, al-Jazeera is just too 'left' to be allowed access to our fearful public. Has anyone noticed that much of the world is 'left' of the United States? Because of my occasional appearances on al-Jazeera news shows, and having written opinion pieces for its Web site, I can be accused of knowing on which side my pita is being buttered. Fair enough. And my experiences with al-Jazeera will only confirm the obvious. In its selection of stories and editorial slants, it is to the left of mainstream American media. So what? Al-Jazeera is also an outlet of professional journalists, generally well-informed and seeking to at least appear balanced. No one has ever suggested to me what to say or write. The network may present Arab voices, but its coverage includes more of the world than this parochial image allows."

Ad Age, 3 Jan 2013, Jeanine Poggi: "Critics often complain that cable-news networks in the U.S. lack enough 'real news' and carry a surplus of opinion and fluff. Now enters Al-Jazeera and its tendency toward serious reporting. But will viewers prove the critics right? And what about advertisers? ... [T]he big three in U.S. cable news -- Fox News, MSNBC and CNN -- aren't funding global reporting on the scale of either Al-Jazeera or the BBC. CNN, which enjoys a large international presence compared with its domestic rivals, has 33 international news bureaus. Al-Jazeera and the BBC each have more than 70."

BBG Strategy, 4 Jan 2013, Paul Marszalek: "[T]he AJ America channel is likely to be shunned by many advertisers at first — a common practice known sometimes as a 'no controversy' edict. This hurts both the channel as well as the MSO. You can see this in practice on Fox, MSNBC, and Current as ad inventory is soaked up not by blue-chip advertisers, but often by bottom feeder ad categories such as buying gold coins, or 'as-seen-on-TV' wonder products. But again, the real money is in carriage fees. Unfortunately for AJ America, 12 cents per household is going to be a tough sell. Unlike the famous 'I Want My MTV' campaign that got hordes of kids excited in the early days of cable, almost no one is asking for Al Jazeera. ... A straight-ahead international news channel is more likely to be in the ballpark of the channel it is replacing, Current, or Fox Business Channel, which posts just 50,000 viewers in prime time. Deep pockets may help change the game. If Al Jazeera is willing to offer the channel for free, or even pay MSOs to carry it, they may get the distribution they seek. But as one can see from Current, distribution hardly guarantees viewers. A better play is to go after talent. Olbermann would double the ratings instantly, if they have the management skills to keep him happy. But that’s something no one else has been able to do."

Accuracy in Media, 3 Jan 2013, Cliff Kincaid: "Al-Jazeera was regarded by the Bush Administration as hostile to American interests after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 when information surfaced showing that the channel’s managing director, Mohammed Jassem al-Ali, had been acting as an agent of the Saddam Hussein regime. The Obama Administration, however, has praised Al-Jazeera, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton saying the channel had provided 'real news' coverage of the Middle East riots and revolution that ushered in a Muslim Brotherhood takeover of Egypt and the rise of Islamists in such countries as Libya and Syria. Although the channel masquerades as an independent 'news' operation, the U.S. State Department’s own human rights report on Qatar notes that 'the government exercised editorial and programmatic control of the channel through funding and selection of the station’s management.' As such, the assumption is that the Obama Administration encouraged the sale of Current TV, since it financially benefits not only Al Gore and Joel Hyatt, the other co-owner who is also a prominent Democrat, but the Muslim Brotherhood and its backers in Qatar."

CNN, 5 Jan 2013, Hugh Miles: "Compared to the tens of billions [the Emir of Qatar's] neighbors spend on U.S. arms, the influence afforded by Al Jazeera represents very good value for money. ... Lots of state-sponsored channels broadcast news channels around the world, mostly from the U.S. and Europe in the direction of the 'Global South.' But Al Jazeera English, and soon Al Jazeera America, broadcast in the opposite direction, will give quite a different perspective on events to U.S. news channels, especially when it comes to Arab affairs. In particular Al Jazeera's reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is both more in depth and in line with the rest of the world's thinking than that usually found on U.S. TV."

New American Media, 4 Jan 2013, Uchenna Ekwo: "[I]t is expected that the United States being a strong advocate of free flow of information should support visible attempts to change the culture of secrecy that have permeated the Middle East for too long. Providing all practical assistance to Al Jazeera might be an effective strategy to achieve just that. The channel has demonstrated in different occasions its readiness to open up closed societies of the Middle East through accurate and independent reporting of issues and events around the world. Moreover, Al Jazeera will also help to open the eyes of most Americans who remain ignorant of international affairs and other civilizations. Americans need to learn more about other cultures, events, and issues happening overseas. Majority of US based news organizations are not able to cover the rest of the world effectively due to different reasons we cannot discuss in this piece. BBC America is no doubt filling that gap in the American media environment. The inclusion of Al Jazeera America with its vast financial power may just move the coverage of the world for US audiences to another level."

The Weekly Standard, The Scrapbook, 14 Jan 2013 issue: "Al Jazeera, contrary to the belief of many, is not just another cable channel with a distinct political perspective, like MSNBC or Fox. It is the strategic communications arm of Qatari foreign policy. For those many media experts who make careful distinctions between Al Jazeera Arabic and Al Jazeera English, decrying the excessive rhetoric, frequently anti-American and anti-Semitic, of the former, while praising the reportorial acumen of the latter, the reality is that the English station exists to lend legitimacy to the Arabic channel. The Al Jazeera America brand is a means to consolidate Qatar’s baleful worldview and extend it further into the American consciousness. ... We hope Al Gore enjoys the hundred million pieces of silver he pocketed in the transaction."

Time, 4 Jan 2013, Ishaan Tharoor: "Even if it never achieves top ratings in the U.S., Al Jazeera has in many senses already stolen a march on mainstream American competitors. For example, Al Jazeera English’s Washington-based social media news show 'The Stream' is the progenitor of other internet broadcasts such as HuffPost Live that may well become the norm in the decades to come. Yesterday, as detractors elsewhere bloviated over Al Jazeera’s mythical terrorist ties, The Stream hosted famous epistemologist Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan. The show’s anchors quizzed him on systems of governance and the political dysfunction behind the fiscal cliff with the help of myriad viewers who joined in via a Google hangout or on Twitter. Questions came from a remote town in western Texas, New York City and many places in between. Al Jazeera knows that there’s already an American audience for a serious news network that manages to be at once both local and global. And it also knows there’s no other major American news network capable of matching that feat."

BBC Radio 4 Today, 5 Jan 2013: "Media analyst Claire Enders explains that Al Jazeera's decision to expand its distribution in the US 'makes sense because the US is the biggest TV market in the world and is a very important nation. It represents about 50 per cent of our total TV revenues, whether by advertising or paid TV.' She compares the US to Qatar: 'Al Jazeera doesn't generate revenue now anyway, it is a cost to the Qatari government, it's not a commercial decision, it's a very long term decision from an oil rich state.' She continues: 'Al Jazeera wishes to compete with CNN and the BBC...it presents a different perspective on the Arab Israeli conflict.' Nevertheless, Claire Enders believes that Al Jazeera will not do very well because '[it's] been very hard for Al Jazeera to develop any kind of audience in Europe, apart from when there are major events in the Middle East.'" With audio.

Saudi Gazette 6 Jan 2012, editorial: "The big question now is what Al-Jazeera plans to do with its new reach into America. It has to convince Americans to tune in. The problem is that people in America associate Al-Jazeera with the Muslim and Arab world and do not view the link as favorable. There’s a fair amount of paranoia when it comes to Arabs and Al-Jazeera. The challenge will be persuading Americans to watch — a daunting proposition given the crowded television marketplace and the stereotypes about the channel that persist to this day. Al-Jazeera has to override that and persuade people to watch it by providing quality news and analysis and maybe toeing the American line more often. In trying to attract Americans, Al-Jazeera will at times look more American than Arab which will cloud its identity and purpose. But it might also air a more moderate and compassionate Arab view of the West which will hurt neither side. However, although it will be called Al-Jazeera America, the name alone will not be enough to sway American public opinion."

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