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Friday January 4, 2013 06:23

Al Jazeera get access to US TV – but will anyone watch?

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Los Angeles (dpa) – American TV programmes are one of the country’s most successful exports, but there’s little international television that makes it on to US television screens.

That’s about to change however with the purchase by Al Jazeera of Current TV, a 7-year-old cable station co-founded by former Vice President Al Gore. Terms of the deal were not announced, but trade journal Variety reported that Al Jazeera paid roughly 500 million dollars for Current TV giving Gore a payout of some 100 million dollars.

Gore’s vision for a channel that would attract young viewers to the burning issues of our times never caught on. But thanks to some canny dealmaking with cable TV operators, Current TV is beamed to some 40 million US households.

Most of these will now receive Al Jazeera, which plans to radically increase its US coverage as it seeks to offer US viewers an alternative to the mainstream news channels, which often descend into jingoistic fist-pumping whenever they cover America’s still profound international impact.

Al Jazeera, the pan-Arab news giant that’s controlled by the Qatari royal family, hopes it can fill that gap. It believes there is healthy demand for a non-US-centric view of the world, citing the fact that over 40 per cent of Al Jazeera English’s online viewing comes from the States.

”US viewers have clearly demonstrated that they like the way Al Jazeera provides compelling, in-depth news to audiences across the world,” said Ahmed bin Jassim Al Thani, director general of Al Jazeera. ”For many years, we understood that we could make a positive contribution to the news and information available in and about the United States and what we are announcing today will help us achieve that goal.”

But success is far from guaranteed. Even BBC America, which can rely on one of the most respected brands in world programming, has found it hard to crack the US market, and following deals with Time Warner and Comcast is now available in around 25 million US homes.

Currently Al Jazeera is available in 4.7 million US homes, and following the deal it could reach as many as 40 million. However exact numbers are unclear since the sale of Current TV allows cable companies to stop carrying the channel. Time Warner announced it would take up that option on Thursday and many other operators are also considering it, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

That would jibe well with the hostility Al Jazeera has faced from many US media companies in a country where it has in the past been seen as sympathizing with foes of the US in the Middle East.

”There are still people who will not watch it, who will say that it’s a ‘terrorist network,”’ Philip Seib, author of The Al Jazeera Effect, told The New York Times. ”Al Jazeera has to override that by providing quality news.”

But Gore, for one, believes that such a reputation is undeserved.

Current TV ”was built based on a few key goals: To give voice to those who are not typically heard; to speak truth to power; to provide independent and diverse points of view; and to tell the stories that no one else is telling,” he said in a statement announcing the sale. ”Al Jazeera, like Current, believes that facts and truth lead to a better understanding of the world around us.”

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