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For some Americans, Al Jazeera might not be a likely alternative to the tendentious opinion shows that have taken over our cable news outlets. Some news consumers had high hopes when the Qatari news broadcaster bought Current TV last January to start an American channel, but more Americans’ first memory of Al Jazeera is when it aired multiple videos of Osama bin Laden following the 9/11 attacks.
But the fact is that Al Jazeera garnered worldwide recognition for its thorough coverage of the Arab Spring, and its reputation has continued to develop. Hillary Clinton commented that when watching Al Jazeera “you feel like you’re getting real news around the clock instead of a million commercials and, you know, arguments between talking heads.” According to Joel Hyatt, who co-founded Current TV with Al Gore, the sale felt right because they believed that Al Jazeera shared certain ideals with Current, including giving “voice to those whose voices are not typically heard.” (The $500 million Al Jazeera paid for Current probably didn’t hurt, either.)
Here is a breakdown of information about Al Jazeera America to help anyone who may be on the fence:
What Does the Name Mean? The words “Al Jazeera” are Arabic and translate to “the island,” in English. They refer to the geography of the Arabian Peninsula.
Who’s Paying for This? Al Jazeera first launched in 1996, branched into Al Jazeera English in 2006, and is now broadcast in 130 countries, claiming to reach 260 million households. The Al Jazeera Media Network’s headquarters are in Doha, Qatar. Heavily funded by the rich Qatari government, Al Jazeera “is one of the most significant investments in television journalism in modern times.”
Why Are They Investing in American Audiences? For the same reason that The Guardian, the BBC, and that famous Australian newspaperman do: Americans are a uniquely influential and wealthy audience. (For similar reasons, Americans news and media organizations are now fighting for a way to get into China.)
Why Would I Want to Watch It? At least at the beginning of its run, Al Jazeera America is putting a strong focus on hard news reporting, both domestically and internationally. If you like “60 Minutes,” that may appeal to you. If the prime-time talk format on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC appeals to you, maybe it isn’t.
Will you watch Al Jazeera America if it becomes available through your cable subscriber? Tell us in the comments or in a blog post.