In a deal that began last Wednesday and was finalized early Thursday morning, Al Jazeera announced it has purchased Current TV. Time Warner Cable voiced its opinion of the deal by announcing it will immediately drop the channel to its more than 12 million households.
Al Jazeera Director General Ahmed bin Jassim Al Thani said, “By acquiring Current TV, Al Jazeera will significantly expand our existing distribution footprint in the U.S., as well as increase our news gathering and reporting efforts in America. We look forward to working together with our new cable and satellite partners to serve our new audiences across the U.S.”
Seen in more than 260 million households in 130 countries, the award-winning channel, known for its honest look at current issues through a liberal lens, will have an uphill battle in the United States.
Launched out of necessity on November 1, 1996 after the BBC shuttered its Arabic-language station, Al Jazeera had the humblest of beginnings. Headquartered in the tiny Arab nation of Qatar, and made possible through funding provided by the Emir of Qatar, Al Jazeera began as a six-hour daily news channel serving the immediate neighborhood by means of a terrestrial antenna.
The news organization came into prominence in the United States shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks that brought down the Twin Towers in New York City. It offered arguably the best coverage of the war in Afghanistan as it already had an office in Kabul, frequently broadcasting video and audio tapes from Osama Bin Laden.
For many Americans and others in the West, Al Jazeera was seen at the time as being sympathetic to terrorists for airing these tapes. Al Jazeera’s Washington, D.C. bureau chief Hafez al-Mirazi likened the situation to the “New York Times”publishing messages from Ted Kaczynski, also known as the Unabomber.
In 2006, Al Jazeera English was launched as Al Jazeera’s official English-language channel. It hired journalists from ABC News and other top media outlets to objectively deliver the news. Still, it was hampered by regulatory and commercial challenges in North America because of the perception that it is sympathetic to extremist causes. There can be no question this played a significant part in Time Warner Cable issuing a statement on Thursday that it is “removing the service as quickly as possible.”
Comcast and DIRECTV, both equity partners in Current TV, account for 22.4 million and 19.8 million households respectively, will continue airing the new network dubbed Al Jazeera America. Al Gore and Joel Hyatt will stay on as members of the advisory board.
Current TV was founded by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore and business partner Joel Hyatt on August 1, 2005. It had a lofty goal in mind when it was created, and that was to bring viewer-generated content to an audience largely comprised of viewer age 18-34.
It discovered this was an idea ahead of its time and quickly transformed itself into a more traditional cable television network. The fledgling network hired the likes of former MSBNC talking head Keith Olbermann, former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, Stephanie Miller, Bill Press and former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer.
Even though it is broadcast to more than 60 million households in America, Current TV has struggled to find a sizeable audience since its launch, eventually finding itself in the unenviable position of competing directly against the left-wing powerhouse MSNBC.
Al Jazeera America will remain headquartered in New York and will continue its news bureaus in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, and Chicago. It has plans to expand its news bureaus and more than double its current U.S. based staff to more than 300 employees.
Al Jazeera America will be hiring professional journalists to continue its unvarnished delivery of English-speaking news to the United States and the rest of the world. Moving forward, 60 percent of its news will be tailored to U.S. audiences with the balance to international English-speaking viewers.
Keep up with Time Warner Cable and other cable TV providers and the developing story at CableTV.com, which expects this purchase to remain controversial for the foreseeable future. The new channel will have to work to convince many potential U.S. viewers it’s no more sympathetic to Muslims, Arabs, or Islam than it is to any other groups of people around the globe.