More on the prospective Al Jazeera America news channel

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A few excerpts from sane commentary in the Washington Post, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, and the New York Times.

Earlier post: Al Jazeera purchase of Current could improve U.S. TV coverage of climate and global environmental politics

Gary Wasserman, Washington Post, January 4: Sale of Current TV may be a win-win

Gary Wasserman teaches government at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in Qatar.

The announcement that al-Jazeera is buying Al Gore’s Current TV network can be expected to run into what pundits call “a serious image problem.” Allowing the Qatar-based, Arab-owned network to be seen in 40 million U.S. households may be more than our fragile citizenry can bear.

With its alleged positions against U.S. foreign policies and wars, al-Jazeera is just too “left” to be allowed access to our fearful public.

Has anyone noticed that much of the world is “left” of the United States? …

al-Jazeera will be running its American operation under a separate U.S.-based news channel with its own staff, which shows recognition of the issue of bias. Much of the paranoia about al-Jazeera rests on a somewhat antiquated notion of media ownership. While any of us writing about media will occasionally fall back on the vision of the willful reactionary owner (read: Rupert Murdoch) controlling the direction of his empire, the reality is more complicated. Reporters, editors, advertisers, sources, competitors, corporate strategists and even the audience shape the content of modern media. Bringing al-Jazeera to more of America may also mean bringing more of America to al-Jazeera.

There may be winners on both sides. We Americans do brag about our marketplace of ideas. The U.S. audience may gain access to the perspectives of a respected international network covering stories from regions of the world — sub-Saharan Africa, the various -stans and South Asia — that our national media has largely ignored. …

Dominic Basulto, Washington Post, January 3: Al Gore, Al-Jazeera and another inconvenient truth

… By virtue of being locked out of the U.S. cable TV market for so long (mostly at the behest of the George W. Bush administration), Al-Jazeera learned to embrace the Internet in ways that have transformed it into one of the most modern, progressive video news organizations in the world. …

Far from being a mouthpiece of Arab radicalism, as was originally feared when it first expanded to the U.S., Al-Jazeera English has emerged as a supporter of the democratic uprisings of the Arab Spring. Along the way, it has been picking up journalism awards for its investigative reporting as well as compliments from influential U.S. news organizations. …

For now, this new competitive threat from abroad could be a good thing, if it forces U.S. cable TV news operators to re-think how to create, distribute and package their video content for the YouTube generation. As a result, here’s one more item to place on your OUT/IN List for 2013. OUT: cable TV talking heads sitting behind desks. IN: intrepid investigative journalists bringing you the world.

Peter Hart, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting: Will Americans Be Able to Watch Al Jazeera America?

… But will cable providers, who have been unwilling to give Al Jazeera English a chance, behave differently now? In New York City, Time Warner Cable promptly pulled the plug on Current. And it would seem that other providers could go that route too. …

[C]able news channels get money from subscribers:

SNL Kagan said Fox News averages 89 cents per subscriber per month, while CNN gets 57 cents and MSNBC collects 18 cents.

That's per subscriber–as in, everyone who has cable television. So all of us cable subscribers pay for Fox News Channel. We pay quite a bit, as a matter of fact, whether we watch it or not. …

The current model is great for certain people: monopolistic cable companies and big media owners like Rupert Murdoch. It rewards TV hosts like Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly. And it makes it harder for competitors to get a chance to offer viewers something new.

The New York Times editorial (1/4/13) in support of Al Jazeera included a funny line:

Many American policy makers and cable companies have had doubts about the impartiality of Al Jazeera, which is owned and financed by the emir of Qatar.

Of course, cable companies happily carry Fox News, which is no one's idea of impartial. The same could be said of liberal MSNBC (which is a lot cheaper to customers).

So the problem isn't that American TV viewers might be subjected to news with a point of view. It's news with what many elites might consider the wrong point of view that is the problem.

New York Times editorial, January 3, 2013: Al Jazeera in America

… Nonetheless, Al Jazeera could bring an important international perspective to American audiences and should be given a chance to prove itself commercially before cable companies remove Current TV from their lineups. …

Al Jazeera often brings a nuance to international stories that can be lacking on American networks, because it has more foreign correspondents and overseas bureaus than many established Western networks. Its coverage of the Arab Spring won a George Foster Peabody Award and its English-language service is broadcast to more than 250 million homes in 130 countries, including Britain, South Africa and India. …

With the exception of a few places, like Washington and New York City, Al Jazeera English is not available to most American viewers. Why not let them make up their own minds about the network and its journalism?

PBS News Hour, January 3: What Al Jazeera’s Current TV Acquisition Means for American Media. Interview with Robert Wheelock, executive producer of news gathering for Al-Jazeera in the Americas

AlJazeera English

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