Al-Jazeera recently announced that it had finally broken into the American media by purchasing Al Gore’s Current TV network. It’s been a long time coming in this nation that appeared to support the mass psychological vilification of the channel following the agenda and cues of former President George Bush. During those years, Al-Jazeera was a new offering that presented the Middle Eastern perspective on world activities – a view that most in the Bush administration didn’t care for as it tended to be critical of American activities in the region – which can be seen in the documentary Control Room (Noujaim, 2004).
Today, Al-Jazeera can been seen in more than 220 million households, in more than 120 countries, but still not in America (Gornall, 2011). Americans who are interested in its reporting are regulated to streaming the channel from the internet, which works well for the cord cutters, but not for those that still rely on cable TV as their primary source of information (Méndez-Wilson, 2012). “But to keep cable operators happy, Al Jazeera may have to make a difficult bargain: giving up on the web. The Qatar government-backed television news operation, which acquired Current TV for a few hundred million dollars from investors including Al Gore, said Thursday that it will at least temporarily stop streaming online Al Jazeera English, its global English-language news service, in about 90 days. Because cable and satellite operators pay networks to carry their programming, the operators don’t want the programming appearing for free online” (Elliot, 2013). This is a risky step to take in a nation that appears to be moving away from cable dominance and more toward internet connection technologies, just as the rest of the world is.
So what were the reactions to this announcement? From the business perspective, Time Warner, one of the leading cable providers, announced it would not carry the channel. According to a survey, “41 percent of Americans said they approve of Time Warner’s decision, while 22 percent said they disapprove. Time Warner announced the decision to drop Current TV almost immediately after the Al Jazeera sale was made public…//… Republicans in the survey approved of the Time Warner decision 65 percent to 13 percent, and independents backed it 42 percent to 22 percent. Democrats, however, divided equally between those approving (26 percent) and disapproving (27 percent) “ (Swanson, 2013). Time Warner later revised their announcement to say they would be “open” to considering it.
On the other hand Hillary Clinton, the Secretary of State, gave the station a huge plug while telling the Foreign Policy Priorities Committee that the United States was losing the international information war. Al Jazeera, she said, was “literally changing people’s minds and attitudes” and, like it or hate it, “it is really effective … In fact viewership of Al Jazeera is going up in the United States because it’s real news” (Gornall, 2011).
Based on comments such as Clinton’s, others feel that this move is more about Public Diplomacy than selling news content. “Al Jazeera isn’t in this business for profit: this is more about projecting soft power into the world, demonstrating that the Arab countries can produce valuable, first-rate, uncensored journalism. For the prize of two Cézannes, Al Jazeera is buying the Arab world a significant measure of credibility in the single most important country on the planet. Or it’s attempting to, anyway…//… What Al Jazeera is really buying is Current TV’s access to 40 million households” (Salmon, 2013). Recent developments in how the network operates may indeed back up these notions that Al-Jazeera is attempting to influence Americans. “These are ambitious plans to become a significant player in the American market, but they come at a time when internal changes at Al Jazeera threaten to compromise the brand it has built, according to Georgetown’s Adel Iskandar, a lecturer of Arab media studies and co-author of the book Al-Jazeera: The Story of the Network that is Rattling Governments and Redefining Modern Journalism. “The Al Jazeera of 2010 is not the Al Jazeera of 2013,” he said. “The director general of the network has left and was replaced by a member of the [Qatari] royal family. Al Jazeera Arabic has very much become an instrument of Qatari foreign policy, so it’s no longer a freewheeling network. The English network has higher standards, but still has problems. We’ve seen the departure of various people at the network who claim that it no longer practices independent journalism” (Salama, 2013).
Regardless of these changes, this still a significant change for Americans and an opportunity to view themselves and their activities on the global scale through the eyes of others. American’s for the most part live in a tightly controlled media bubble ingesting only those perspectives that are considered acceptable and inoffensive – many of which are communicated from their own government. On the other hand “Europeans have easy access to news networks from Japan, France, China and Russia. It shouldn’t be a problem for diversity of thought and reporting to be a part of the basic cable package here at home – even outside the major markets” (Thibault, 2013). And “…one look at either BBC News or Al Jazeera will tell you that they cover the rest of the world with a vigor not seen through your screen if all you watch is CNN, Fox News or MSNBC. Beyond that, foreign coverage of this country gives a vastly different perspective of what’s going on. That kind of variety would be mighty useful – and potentially very popular” (Goodman, 2013). Others agree and state Americans should watch the channel themselves and make up their own minds instead of being spoon fed information continuously. “You will learn more about the world in a week than you will on the combined American news channel(s) …in a decade. This alone makes Al Jazeera’s acquisition of Current TV a win-win for American news consumers” (Thibault, 2013).
Elliot, K. (2013, 2013 6). Among Media of International Broadcasting, Al Jazeera America Will be a Victory for Pay TV, Defeat for Internet Video Streaming. Retrieved Jan 12, 2013, from Kim Elliot Reporting on International Broadcasting: http://kimelli.nfshost.com/?id=14057
Goodman, T. (2013, Jan 6). Al Jazeera America Could Push CNN’s Revamp in New Directions (Analysis). Retrieved Jan 12, 2013, from The Hollywood Reporter: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/bastard-machine/al-jazeera-america-could-push-408954
Gornall, J. (2011, June 24). Arab Spring Brings Al Jazeera to Full Bloom. Retrieved Jan 12, 2013, from The National: http://www.thenational.ae/news/world/middle-east/arab-spring-brings-al-jazeera-to-full-bloom
Méndez-Wilson, D. (2012, Dec 8). Cut the Cord and Say Goodbye to Cable. Retrieved Jan 20, 2013, from USA Today: http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/personal/2012/12/07/cutting-the-cord/1754509/
Noujaim, J. (Director). (2004). Control Room [Motion Picture].
Salama, V. (2013, Jan 9). Al Jazeera in America. Retrieved Jan 12, 2013, from Columbia Journalism Review: http://www.cjr.org/behind_the_news/al_jazeera_in_america.php
Salmon, F. (2013, Jan 6). When News Sells at a Premium. Retrieved Jan 12, 2013, from Seeking Alpha: seekingalpha.com/article/1096611-when-news-sells-at-a-premium
Swanson, E. (2013, Jan 7). Poll On Time Warner Dropping Current TV Finds Plurality Approve. Retrieved Jan 12, 2013, from The Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/07/time-warner-poll-current-tv-al-jazeera_n_2425705.html
Thibault, A. (2013, Jan 7). Cool Justice: The politics and economics of information on cable television. Retrieved Jan 12, 2013, from The Register Citizen: http://www.registercitizen.com/articles/2013/01/07/opinion/doc50eba916d8df0270680918.txt?viewmode=fullstory