Today, Al Jazeera announced its plan to buy Current TV in the United States in a bid to increase the reach of its English news channel. The deal will allow the Qatar-funded network to create an Al Jazeera America service that can reach up to 60 million viewers which have remained stubbornly out of reach.
In the United States, Al Jazeera is still heavily associated with Osama bin Laden and terrorist organizations because of actions in the late 90s. (Statements from the terrorist leader were always released exclusively to the channel.) The association has made it difficult for the channel to find space on the American cable TV lineups. Purchasing Current TV might not fix the problem — Time Warner Cable (and its 10 million subscribers) has already announced plans to drop Current TV, and consequently, Al Jazeera America. Time Warner Cable is wrong to take this action.
As I stated in 2010, Al Jazeera English is a quality news outlet that offers some rather good journalism. And they certainly provide a more global perspective for US audiences than can be found on the MSNBC, CNN and Fox News channels. Many critics have noted that the Arabic version of the channel is increasingly aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood. Obviously, that’s troubling — but my understanding is there’s virtually no interaction between the English and Arabic news teams. Al Jazeera English doesn’t appear to under any type of coercion in its coverage.
Perhaps a tangential angle to the Al Jazeera story is the near-complete lack of independent reporting that emanates locally in Qatar and the other Gulf states. This issue was examined at length by CNBC journalist Yousef Gamal El-Din in the following report which includes a few quotes from me:
Great to see Al Jazeera move further into the US market. I’d just love to see Qatar, the UAE and other Gulf countries improve the environment for critical journalism at home as well.
UPDATE: After a conversation on Twitter, I changed the wording regarding Time Warner Cable’s move from “That’s a shame” to a more forceful: “Time Warner Cable is wrong to take this action.”