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More Al Jazeera is good for the US

2013 January 3
by Paul Vallely

Nobody should imagine that it is about to provide a countervailing voice of the same weight as Rupert Murdoch’s vehemently right-wing US cable channel Fox News, but the increased penetration of Al-Jazeera into the United States is a salutary development.

The Pan-Arab news channel, which is owned by the Qatar royal family, is now available in 260m homes in 130 countries but its availability in the US has been limited, thanks largely to an aggressive hostility to the channel by the American establishment. But Al-Jazeera has just bought Current TV, the ailing channel founded by the former US vice-president Al Gore, which will boost its reach ninefold to about 40 million US homes.
Current was founded as a pioneering attempt to promote user-generated television but it ended up a liberal-left political talk station whose values are very much a match for Al-Jazeera. They share, in Al Gore’s words, a mission “to give voice to those who are not typically heard… to speak truth to power… and to tell the stories that no one else is telling”.

It will be an uphill struggle. Within hours of the deal being announced America’s second-largest TV operator, Time Warner Cable, dropped Current TV from its list of channels presumably because many Americans insist al-Jazeera is a pro-Islamist “terrorist network” in cahoots with al-Qaeda.

It is precisely because of such blinkered and small-minded attitudes that al-Jazeera’s alternative voice must be heard beyond the metropolitan New York and Washing areas it currently reaches. Not all of its stances may be agreeable but the station has won serious respect in a short time winning two major US journalism awards in 2012. Some 40 percent of viewing traffic on Al-Jazeera English’s website comes from the US.  Its voice should be heard with increasing volume as it double the number of US news bureaux it staffs. Providing a far wider range of independent and diverse points of view is a healthy increase in plurality which can only be good for a country which prides itself on being the land of the free.

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