There is Al Jazeera Arabic and Al Jazeera English. Now, with the acquisition of Al Gore’s Current TV, Al Jazeera America will launch sometime in April.
The worrisome unknown for AJA is whether anyone will watch. Will you?
Politico’s Dylan Byers wondered the same thing, writing that Americans are unfamiliar with the Middle Eastern-based network “owned by the Emir of Qatar, and therefore funded largely by foreign oil wealth.”
The award-winning, international news channel has faced criticism from Americans who believe the network is a pro-Arab, pro-Muslim propaganda machine that plays to hatred of America and Israel in the Middle East. But, Byers wrote, most Americans have never even watched Al Jazeera because “many U.S. cable providers won’t carry it.”
All three channels are, and will be, “editorially independent” from one another, Byers said, adding that Al Jazeera’s coverage has always been news of international affairs, something Americans are “apathetic” to.
Steve Clemons, founder of the New America Foundation’s American Strategy Program and an editor-at-large at The Atlantic, told Politico, “Right now, there’s a global arbitrage reality out there. American news media is much more inwardly focused; international stories are boutique stories.” The content is said to be similar to CNN’s.
Al Jazeera America is expected to reach 41 million viewers, up from Current TV’s standard audience of 4.7 million viewers. However, Byers reported, “Before the ink had even dried on the Current-Al Jazeera deal, Time Warner Cable announced it had dropped the channel. (It has since said it’s keeping an open mind.) Executives there attributed the move to Current TV’s low ratings, not Al Jazeera’s politics, but implicit in that was a total lack of faith in Al Jazeera America’s ability to improve on Current’s lackluster performance. The move cost Al Jazeera roughly 12 million potential viewers.”
Opposition to the network that Byers says “bought its way in” to the U.S. cable news market came fast. Dick Morris “accused Current’s co-founders of ‘bringing anti-Israeli propaganda’ to America,” Byers wrote, and the watchdog group, Accuracy In Media, said Al Jazeera was “planning to reach American Muslims, who primarily speak English, with inflammatory words and images making America out to be the enemy and villain in the Middle East.” The watchdog group even went so far as to call the new channel a threat to national security.
But many U.S. diplomats like the network, particularly Al Jazeera English. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was quoted as saying, “You feel like you’re getting real news around the clock instead of a million commercials and arguments between talking heads.” An anonymous State Department official told Politico, “Our experience has been that Al Jazeera English is a totally different animal than Al Jazeera Arabic, with different editorial postures. Many of us quite like Al Jazeera English and the intelligent, detailed coverage it brings of places not often covered in depth on networks here in the U.S.”
Clemons had some strong predictions for the new channel’s future audience share: “It’s like the bank you’d never heard of that gobbles up smaller banks, then one day founds Bank of America,” he told Byers. “We’ll wake up one day and see that Al Jazeera has acquired a substantial portion of the U.S. audience.”
Well, we shall see about that. Only time will tell if Americans are ready to embrace yet another 24-hour news network, not to mention overcoming concerns that a Middle Eastern-owned station will use our airwaves to promote anti-American, anti-Israeli discourse.
Take the poll:
Read Dylan Byers article in Politico.