Al Jazeera, the Arab broadcaster, is buying Current T.V. , the cable network founded by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore. The deal -- estimated at around $500 million -- could gain Al Jazeera access to roughly 40 million U.S. homes.
Al Jazeera is funded and run by the ruling family of the small, oil rich Gulf state of Qatar. The company has global ambitions and that means extending its reach into the world’s biggest TV market, the United States, something it has so far struggled to accomplish. Al Jazeera is still viewed with suspicion by many Americans after it aired videotapes from Osama bin Laden following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
“ For an American audience in particular it has been seen very much as the voice of the enemy,” says George Joffe, an arab expert at Britain’s Cambridge University. “ It has lacked the credibility to persuade American cable carriers to carry its programs.”
Joffe adds that elsewhere in the world Al Jazeera has established a reputation as a legitimate news organization with editorial independence, although some critics in the Arab world claim that it has not reported on its own country or other Gulf states as rigorously as it might have.
The company plans to launch its own U.S.-based news channel on the Current TV network later this year. But it has already suffered a setback. Time-Warner, the second biggest cable operator in the U.S., says that it will drop Current T.V. following the change of ownership. Time-Warner claims this is due to the network’s low ratings.