LOS ANGELES — Al-Jazeera, the Pan-Arab news channel that struggled to win space on American cable television, has acquired Current TV, boosting its reach in the U.S. nearly ninefold to about 40 million homes. With a focus on U.S. news, it plans to rebrand the left-leaning news network that cofounder Al Gore couldn’t make relevant. The former vice president confirmed the sale Wednesday, saying in a statement that Al-Jazeera shares Current TV’s mission ‘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.’ The acquisition lifts Al-Jazeera’s reach beyond a few large U.S. metropolitan areas including New York and Washington, where about 4.7 million homes can now watch Al-Jazeera English. Al-Jazeera, owned by the government of Qatar, plans to gradually transform Current into a network called Al-Jazeera America by adding five to 10 new U.S. bureaus beyond the five it has now and hiring more journalists. More than half of the content will be U.S. news and the network will have its headquarters in New York, spokesman Stan Collender said. Collender said there are no rules against foreign ownership of a cable channel — unlike the strict rules limiting foreign ownership of free-to-air TV stations. He said the move is based on demand, adding that 40 percent of viewing traffic on Al-Jazeera English’s website is from the U.S. ’This is a pure business decision based on recognized demand,’ Collender said. ‘When people watch Al-Jazeera, they tend to like it a great deal.’ Al-Jazeera has long struggled to get carriage in the U.S., and the deal suffered an immediate casualty as Time Warner Cable Inc., the nation’s second-largest cable TV operator, announced it is dropping Current TV due to the deal. ’Our agreement with Current has been terminated and we will no longer be carrying the service. We are removing the service as quickly as possible,’ the company said in a statement.The New York Time reports on the pivotal role played by Mr. Gore in the sale who will personally be receiving $100 million:
Al Gore’s Current TV was never popular with viewers, but it was a hit where it counted: with cable and satellite providers. When he co-founded the channel in 2005, Mr. Gore managed to get the channel piped into tens of millions of households — a huge number for an untested network — through a combination of personal lobbying and arm-twisting of industry giants. He called on those skills again after deciding in December to sell Current TV to Al Jazeera for $500 million. To preserve the deal — and the estimated $100 million he would personally receive — he went to some of those same distributors, who were looking for an excuse to drop the low-rated channel, and reminded them that their contracts with Current TV called it a news channel. Were the distributors going to say that an American version of Al Jazeera didn’t qualify, possibly invoking ugly stereotypes of the Middle Eastern news giant? “The lawyers for the carriers couldn’t find their way around it,” said a person briefed on the negotiations who described them on condition of anonymity.The NYT also cited Mr. Gore’s additional praise for the network:
Their global reach is unmatched and their coverage of major events like the Arab Spring is thorough, fair and informative.A post from September reported that Wadah Khanfar had resigned as the Director General of Al-Jazeer and that same post detailed his close ties to Hamas and the Global Muslim Brotherhood. An analysis posted by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs also notes these same ties but expands upon the networks connections to the Global Muslim Brotherhood:
The meteoric rise of the network and its increasing popularity have led many political and media commentators in the Arab world to wonder exactly who or what was behind what appears to be its main purpose: encouraging opposition and promoting incitement against Arab regimes, exposing the corruption of their leaders and their entourage, while holding to an extreme Arab nationalist attitude against the US and Israel and extolling the values of conservative – and sometimes extremist – Islam. It did not take long for one name to emerge: the Muslim Brotherhood. This hypotheisis is supported by a number of facts. The director-general of the network, Wadah Khanfar, was a member of the organization in Jordan, where he was arrested. Today he is one of the closest advisers of the emir. Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi is also a member of the inner circle of the emir and is known to work closely with Khanfar. Both support Hamas. Arab researchers have succeeded in uncovering a number of other Brothers working for the network, but it is surmised that there are many more. The general consensus is that Qaradawi is the visible tip of the iceberg. In an article published in 2003 in the London-based Arabic daily Asharq al-Awsat, Maamun Fendi, a well-known Egyptian liberal thinker today living in the US, wrote that some 50 percent of the network’s personnel belong to the Muslim Brotherhood. He added that their influence in Qatar was rising both in the network and among government circles. According to him, the Brotherhood had intended to hold its world summit in Qatar in 2003 but had to scuttle its plan when it became known. These summits are usually held in a European capital far from Arab countries, in conditions of the utmost discretion, if not secrecy. Fendi believes that Qatar, by embracing the Brotherhood, an extremist Islamic organization quite popular in the Arab world, while hosting American bases, has found the perfect formula against retaliation by Arab leaders and attacks by all other Arab and Islamic extremists including al-Qaida.Last month, Bloomburg News posted an article titled ”Rising Islamist Movement Has Small But Wealthy Patron” that looked at tensions resulting in the Gulf as a result of Qatari funding of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. A series of other recent posts have detailed the growing importance of Qatar to the Global Muslim Brotherhood:
- A post from October reported on the visit to Gaza by the Emir of Qatar described as the “biggest diplomatic victory” for Hamas since taking power five years ago. A post from earlier that week reported on the announcement of the biggest contribution of reconstruction aid for Hamas-ruled Gaza since the destruction accompanying the Israeli-Gaza conflict four years ago.
- A post from August reported on the plans for an Egypt-Qatar summit where the Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi was to receive the Emir of Qatar. AP had reported earlier that Qatar was granting Egypt a $2 billion loan to help the country’s troubled economy.
- A post from March reported that the Deputy Chairman of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood was visiting Qatar for meetings with Qatari official.
- An earlier post discussed the relocation of Hamas political leader Khaled Mashaal from Syria to Qatar in yet another sign of the country growing importance as a center of the Global Muslim Brotherhood
- A Gulf newspaper recently posted an article by academic Dr. Ahmad Jamil Azem titled “Qatar’s Ties with the Muslim Brotherhood Affect Entire Region.”
- The Atlantic Council Web site recently posted an article titled ”Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood: Between a Present with Qatar and a Future with Libya” that discusses the future of Qatari-Egyptian relations in light of the failure of the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood to prevail in recent elections.
- The Voice of America recently posted an article that discusses the role of the Muslim Brotherhood in driving Qatari foreign policy.