The Listening Post

Al Jazeera: Breaking into the US news market

As Al Jazeera buys the US cable channel Current TV, what kind of journalism can it offer Americans?

At the beginning of every week, the Listening Post team sits down for an editorial meeting with Richard Gizbert to discuss what media story to lead with for the lead segment: The News Divide. Some weeks, the choice is clear. This week, we were divided – excuse the pun. In China we had a strong media angle to an ongoing story: Journalists at Guangzhou-based Southern Weekly went on strike and staged a rare public protest against censorship after a row broke out over their New Year editorial. Fallout from the battle spread to Beijing. Journalists at the Beijing News were reportedly forced to run an editorial attacking Southern Weekly. The editor and publisher have threatened to resign.

But we decided to push the China story down our ‘bulletin’ because of another story circulating – not just because it is all about us, but because it marks a new chapter in the story of international TV news history.

Al Jazeera has bought out American cable channel Current TV at a reported $500mn. The aim: to crack the media market in the US. The hurdle: the stigma still attached to the Al Jazeera brand in the US. Cable operators are key middlemen in the American media business and the major ones have refused Al Jazeera’s attempts to get its signal out. And that is just the first hurdle. Our newsrooms are abuzz with all sorts of questions. What kind of journalism can this new channel offer? Will this be the voice of the South – in the North? What kind of added value can it offer on the US market? How can it compete with other news channels? And are Americans even interested? Those are the elements we will be exploring in this week’s News Divide with some interesting contributors, well versed in the history, politics and economics of this ever expanding news operation.

Apart from China, other Newsbytes: Klub Radio, one of few media outlets in Hungary to critically examine the policies of Viktor Orban, the conservative prime minister, has won its battle with the Hungarian authorities to stay on the air; and an update to last week’s show about whistleblowers in Obama’s America with former CIA operative John Kiriakou scheduled to be sentenced to two and a half years in jail for releasing the name of a covert CIA officer to a freelance reporter.  

Sri Lanka’s boldest journalists

For this week’s feature, we interview one journalist who has recently fled her country, Sri Lanka. Over the past few years freedom of the press has been under attack by the government there. One newspaper in particular has been in the governmental crosshairs, the Sunday Leader. Back in 2009, the editor was threatened with death over his journalism, then shot and killed. And his successor, having been threatened herself, has recently fled the country. We speak with editor Frederica Jansz.

Finally, we have never given a web video of the week a re-run before, but recent news has given this one fresh relevance. Back in 2006, when Al Jazeera English first launched as a news channel, among the people who took a look at us was the Daily Show, Jon Stewart’s programme on Comedy Central in the US. We ran some of that piece back then and with Al Jazeera making another push into the US market, we thought this would be an appropriate time to dust it off and take a second look.


Listening Post can be seen each week at the following times GMT: Saturday: 0830, 1930; Sunday: 1430; Monday: 0430.

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