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UPDATED: Al-Jazeera Buys Current TV, Expands in the USA and Sparks Reactions | The Nation

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Greg Mitchell

Greg Mitchell

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UPDATED: Al-Jazeera Buys Current TV, Expands in the USA and Sparks Reactions

UPDATES 

9 a.m. Friday   Good piece by the Balitmore Sun TV writer David Durawik on why Al Jazeera buying Current a great thing--and rights wrong of keeping Al Jazeera English off the air for so long.

3 p.m. Thursday:  Amid a flood of complaints (see below) after it hastily dropped Current TVlast night, Time Warner Cable now says it is "open" to carrying the new Al Jazeera America.  Current's current hosts (Spitzer, Behar, Granholm) have not been told where the now stand. 

9 p.m.  Thursday  Full update from Reuters on Al Jazeera's coming issues in getting distribution--though, like Fox early on, it could pay to get on cable systems rather than get money for that at first.   NYT editorial tonight backs Al Jazeera's move, saying doubts about its "independence" (since its owned by Qatar government) do not outweigh what it can provide.

Brian Stelter of The New York Times had it first late yesterday: Al Jazeera, which has long sought a bigger footprint in this country, would buy—and shut down—struggling Current TV, founded seven years ago by Al Gore and partners, and launch its own major cable operation here, reaching a possible 40 million new viewers.

The price is reportedly half a billion with Gore himself netting 20 percent of that. Stelter updated his report today with this: “Mr. Gore and his partners were eager to complete the deal by Dec. 31, lest it be subject to higher tax rates that took effect on Jan. 1, according to several people who insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. But the deal was not signed until Wednesday.”

The new channel will be called Al Jazeera America.

Of course, barbs about this on Twitter began immediately, with the new channel referred to as “Al Gorezeera” and right-wing sites cackling over the former vice president and climate change prophet’s netting millions from Saudi oil interests (Al Jazeera is financed by the government of Qatar). The deal is no joke, but it has much to overcome.

There’s the overly crowded US cable news field (with still a limited audience) for one thing, and then there’s Al Jazeera’s “image problem.”  Stelter’s story itself reflected that. He mentioned the persistent “stereotype” of the news organization—despite its growing popularlity here via the web and its Al Jazeera English channel (available in only limited areas of this country)—as a hindrance, and check out how he begins his report: “Al Jazeera, the pan-Arab news giant, has long tried to convince Americans that it is a legitimate news organization, not a parrot of Middle Eastern propaganda or something more sinister.”

Here’s Philip Seib, author of a book on the network: “There are still people who will not watch it, who will say that it’s a ‘terrorist network.’ ” This labeling persists despite much mainstream praise for Al Jazerra for its Arab Spring coverage and much since in that region.  Glenn Greenwald pointed out last night:  "Of all the other reasons the Al Jazeera/Terrorists 'jokes' are so stupid, it's owned & controlled by one of the US's closet ally regimes." 

Nevertheless, as Greenwald added:  "US attacks on Al Jazeera - both planned and actual - are one of the most under-appreciated disgraces of the last decade."    Among other actions:  An Al Jazeera cameraman was stuck in Gitmo for seven years without charges.

Time Warner Cable raised eyebrows last night when it quickly announced it was dropping Current from its lineup as soon as possible. It had long threatened to do this, citing low ratings, but its swift move now was considered by some as reflecting the usual stereotyping of Al Jazeera. “Time-Warner cable shows abject political and journalistic cowardice by dropping Current because of Al Jazeera deal,” tweeted Dan Gilmor, the technology writer and founding director of the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship at Arizona State University.

This explanation for Time-Warner’s move remains unconfirmed. However, Chris Hayes just tweeted his view: "Time Warner's decision to drop Current now that it's been acquired by Al Jazeera is cowardly and offensive." Lawrence Lessig tweets: "Gutless: Time Warner Cable Drops Current TV Upon Sale To Al Jazeera."

Think Al Jazeera can't provide valuable perspective in U.S.? Just consider CNN and MSNBC coverage of the recent Israel/Gaza war.   And I liked this tweet from Ryan Grim of Huff Post:  "Hey Time Warner, it's 2013, gay marriage is cool, weed is legal and we're not frightened of Al Jazeera anymore. Get with it people."

Rory O'Connor at Huff Post:

Political concerns aside, some media observers have questioned whether Al Jazeera has, as Stelter phrased it, "The journalistic muscle and the money to compete head-to-head with CNN and other news channels in the United States." What a joke! The last time I checked, Sheikj Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the ruler of Qatar, had more money than Allah. And really, how much "journalistic muscle" does one need to compete with CNN these days....

Al Jazeera will set up news operaton in New York, set up or expand bureaus across the country, and double its number of employees here. Gore will serve on its advistory board. “We are proud and pleased that Al Jazeera, the award-winning international news organization, has bought Current TV,” Gore and Joel Hyatt, the station’s co-founder and CEO, said in a statement released Wednesday.

The Wall Street Journal provides this nugget: “Glenn Beck’s The Blaze approached Current about buying the channel last year, but was told that ‘the legacy of who the network goes to is important to us and we are sensitive to networks not aligned with our point of view.’ ”

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