Sunday, May 10, 2015

Is Al Jazeera America a Bit of a Damp Squib?

Rabin Man Shakya
Former Associate Editor, The Rising Nepal

When Al Jazeera America was launched on August 30,  2013, it occurred to me that the scenario of new world information order is changing fast in the age of globalization and that finally a TV channel - owned by Al Jazeera Media  Network, funded by the ruling family of Qatar - is making inroads into millions of US homes.

Well, Al Jazeera America which was launched amid much fanfare about two years ago hiring creme de la creme of American television journalism is in turmoil today,  judging by the news stories in the mainstream newspapers. Meanwhile, the crisis and turmoil in Al Jazeera America was culminated by the ouster of its powerful chief executive officer Ehab Al Shihabi recently.

The reality of American television journalism is that the polls, ratings and views, not quality, merit and excellence determine the destiny of the TV channels and TV programs.

Meanwhile, with a news story under the headline "Turmoil and Exodus Rattle Al Jazeera Network" on May 6, 2015, The New York Times reported:"Almost two years later, the ratings have not come, nor have the profits. The station has been a nonfactor in news, drawing about 30,000 viewers a night."

The New York Times story went on: "To make matters worse in the last week, a lawsuit and an exodus of top executives have brought to the surface a series of grievances that employees say reflects a deep dysfunction in management of the newsroom, undermining the network's mission."

Well, Al Jazeera America or Al Jazeera may have some weaknesses. News reports suggested that the newsroom of the Al Jazeera America was in total "disarray behind the scenes, a view echoed by almost a dozen current and former employees interviewed."

It is to be noted that during the crisis in Egypt, nearly two dozen journalists of Al Jazeera quit after claiming the network told them to provide favorable coverage to ousted Egyptian president Mohammad Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. Likewise, former Al Jazeera journalists claim that the network had biased coverage in favour of the rebels in Syria's prolonged civil war. These are just the tip of the iceberg.

Al Jazeera America is the successor to Current TV that Qatar regime bought from Al Gore in January, 2013 for about $ 500 million. And although the channel is available in about 43 million households, it is drawing about meager 30,000 viewers a night.

According to media analysts, even though Al Jazeera America has access to the Al Jazeera's 60 global correspondents, 76 per cent of its coverage emanated from Washington DC or New York city.

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