Al Jazeera to buy Al Gore's Current TV, build new U.S.-based cable newschannel
For years, I and other critics have argued that Al Jazeera, the newschannel founded and funded by the government of Qatar, has earned a prominent place in America's array of cable news outlets, thanks to their incisive coverage of the Arab Spring revolts and war in the Middle East.
But no one predicted the channel would earn its foothold through purchase of a floundering cable concern owned by a former vice president of the United States.
Al Jazeera announced today it has acquired Current TV, the liberal-focused cable channel funded and co-owned by onetime Vice President Al Gore. According to Forbes magazine, Current co-founder Joel Hyatt sent staffers a memo with the news earlier today, saying he had spent a week in Qatar observing Al Jazeera's operations. The magazine quoted a possible sale price at $400 million.
Hyatt wrote: " it became clear to us that Al Jazeera was founded with the same goals we had for Current: To give voice to those whose voices are not typically heard; to speak truth to power; to provide independent and diverse points of view; and to tell the important stories that no one else is telling. Al Jazeera, like Current, believes that facts and truth lead to a better understanding of the world around us."
Al Jazeera announced plans to scrap Current's programming -- which now includes weekday shows featuring former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer and former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm -- to create a new, U.S.-based channel.
Current TV has struggled for visibility and focus since its founding in 2005, beginning as a home for liberal-oriented documentaries and morphing into a more left-leaning analysis and opinion channel than liberal channel MSNBC. Hiring former MSNBC star Keith Olbermann to lead a restructuring of the channel and relaunch of his show Countdown didn't fare well -- Olbermann was eventually fired amid growing friction with executives, countersuing the company.
Al Jazeera has experienced its own setbacks in the U.S. cable market, struggling to earn access to American households amid suspicion of its Middle East roots and Arab-centric programming. Today, Time Warner Cable dropped Current from its lineup, though Bright House Networks, which often shares programming with Time Warner, still has Current in its digital tier as I write this.
Al Jazeera expects to double its American staffing to 300 in staffing the new channel, which will be available in 40 million homes even after the Time Warner cancellation. Where this new channel will fit in the axis of right-leaning Fox News, liberal-oriented MSNBC and non-partisan CNN remains to be seen.
But anything to shake up the status quo in American cable news programming can't be all bad.
AL JAZEERA TO START NEW U.S.-BASED NEWS CHANNEL
Acquisition of Current TV Will Make Al Jazeera Channel Available in more than 40 million American Households
NEW YORK – (January 2, 2013) – Al Jazeera Media Network today announced that it will launch a new U.S.-based news channel that will provide both domestic news and international news for American audiences.
The Network has won numerous U.S. and international awards for its journalism and with more than 70 bureaus across the globe it has one of the largest bureau footprints and newsgathering forces of any news network in the world.
Al Jazeera Media Network also announced that it has acquired Current TV in the United States and that the new U.S.-based news channel will be available on Current’s distribution network when it is launched in 2013. There will be a transition from existing programming until the new Al Jazeera channel begins to air.
The new channel will be headquartered in New York City. In addition to the existing Al Jazeera news bureaus in New York, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Miami and Chicago, Al Jazeera will open additional bureaus in key locations across the United States. Al Jazeera’s expansion will double the network's U.S.-based staff to more than 300 employees.
Al Jazeera Director General Ahmed bin Jassim Al Thani said that the creation of the new U.S.-based news channel and the purchase of Current TV are historic developments in Al Jazeera's 16-year history. He said, “For many years, we understood that we could make a positive contribution to the news and information available in and about the United States and what we are announcing today will help us achieve that goal. By acquiring Current TV, Al Jazeera will significantly expand our existing distribution footprint in the U.S., as well as increase our newsgathering 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. I am both exceptionally pleased and very proud that we could take this very important step.”
Al Jazeera’s decision to create a U.S.-based news channel was based in part on the fact that Americans have already shown a great demand for its news and programs: Almost 40 percent of all online viewing of Al Jazeera English comes from the United States.
“U.S. viewers have clearly demonstrated that they like the way Al Jazeera provides compelling, in-depth news to audiences across the world,” the Director General said. “Our commitment to the voice of the voiceless, bringing stories from under-reported regions across the world and putting the human being at the center of our news agenda is at the heart of what we do. Everyone at Al Jazeera takes great pride in the independence, impartiality, professionalism and courage of our journalism. I look forward to bringing these standards to our new American audiences and working with our new colleagues at Current.”
The new U.S.-based news channel will be the latest addition to the Al Jazeera Media Network which consists of: Al Jazeera English, Al Jazeera Arabic, Al Jazeera Documentary, Al Jazeera Balkans, Al Jazeera Sport, Al Jazeera Mubasher, Al Jazeera Mubasher Misr (Egypt Live), Al Jazeera Mobile, the English and Arabic Al Jazeera web sites Al Jazeera.net and Al Jazeera.com, and supported by the Al Jazeera Media Training and Development Center, the Al Jazeera Center for Studies, and the Al Jazeera Public Liberties and Human Rights Department. As part of the Network’s expansion it is also planning to launch Al Jazeera Turk for the Turkish-speaking region in 2013.
The Al Jazeera Media Network is one of the most-honored news organizations in the world. In 2012, it won some of the most prestigious awards in journalism including:
• Franklin D Roosevelt Foundation - Four Freedoms Award for “Freedom of Expression and Speech”
• Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award Grand Prize
• Alfred I. duPont Award
• Columbia University Journalism Award
• George Polk Award for Television Documentary
• Foreign Press Association Award for Best Environmental Story of the Year
• Amnesty International Media Award
• The George Foster Peabody Award
• Scripps Howard Award for Television/Cable In-Depth Reporting
• Royal Television Society Award – News Channel of the Year 2012
Al Jazeera has won a wide range of additional awards (http://www.aljazeera.com/pressoffice/2012/04/2012416161854868952.html) and has been nominated for several Emmy Awards including an International Digital Emmy Award nomination for its 2008 U.S. election coverage. Al Jazeera has recently won praise from a number of American leaders including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Senator John McCain.
To learn more about the acquisition of Current TV and how to find Al Jazeera programming on a cable provider, please visit www.aljazeera.com/america.