Since its launch in 2006, al-Jazeera TV’s English-language news channel has racked up prestigious journalism awards for its reporting on international issues, including the Arab Spring uprisings. The problem: Hardly anyone sees al-Jazeera English (AJE) because few cable TV operators carry it.
On Wednesday, al-Jazeera’s owner — the emir of the oil- and natural gas-rich Persian Gulf state of Qatar — sought to change that.
Al-Jazeera will pay an undisclosed sum — unconfirmed reports said $500 million — for Current TV, the little-watched but widely distributed cable network co-founded by former vice president Al Gore. Al-Jazeera doesn’t want Current for its name or programming; it wants Current’s entree into American households. Al-Jazeera will start a new channel called al-Jazeera America that will produce news for and about Americans. It will instantly have access to about 50 million cable homes that Current reaches, more than 10 times AJE’s distribution.
The deal could mark a new era in a new hemisphere for a news organization that helped smash government control of information in the Arab world. Al-Jazeera — the name means “the peninsula” in Arabic — transcended national censors when it began broadcasting across the Middle East via satellite in 1996.
But its attempts to enter the rich media markets of the West haven’t been quite as revolutionary.