January 4, 2013

Reactions mixed to Al Jazeera TV in U.S.

The Mideast-based network expands its reach to air news in America, but tuning in may be difficult in Maine.

By Ray Routhier rrouthier@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

When Dave Rowe heard that Time Warner Cable, Maine's largest cable TV provider, was dropping a channel owned by the Qatar-based news organization Al Jazeera, he was disappointed.

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Al Jazeera's English-language staff prepares to broadcast from its Doha newsroom in Qatar in November 2006. The network announced this week that it had purchased cable-news channel Current TV and plans to transform it into a news channel called Al Jazeera America later this year. Though it remains uncertain, access to the broadcasts may be severely limited in Maine.

2006 file photo by The Associated Press

click image to enlarge

A Qatari staff member of al-Jazeera points out the newsroom of the TV network in Doha, Qatar, in February 2005.

2005 file photo by The Associated Press

Not so much for himself, since he watches Al Jazeera's international news coverage online whenever he wants. His disappointment was more connected to the world view of some Americans -- or lack thereof.

"It's a very myopic thing to do. We can't go on thinking we're the only ones on the planet," said Rowe, 39, a professional musician who lives in Raymond. "I think it's important for us to know what the world thinks of us."

Al Jazeera announced this week that it's buying Current TV -- which was started by former Vice President Al Gore in 2005 and reaches 60 million U.S. households -- and plans to transform it into a news channel called Al Jazeera America this year.

Al Jazeera, known to many Americans only for its coverage of events in the Middle East, now reaches about 4.7 million households. Current TV will allow it to reach millions more American homes, though it won't necessarily bring Al Jazeera to many more Mainers.

Time Warner, which has more than 360,000 customers in Maine, announced this week that it's dropping Current TV immediately. It has indicated that it will keep an "open mind" about carrying Al Jazeera in the future.

Andrew Russell, a spokesman for Time Warner in Maine, said in a written statement: "We are keeping an open mind and as the service develops we will evaluate whether it makes sense, for our customers, to launch the network."

Russell said Time Warner was prepared to drop Current TV before it was sold "due to incredibly low ratings."

The network was seen in Greater Portland on Time Warner Channel 148. On Thursday, that channel aired a message directing viewers to a website -- www.TWCConversations.com -- to find "other sources for similar programming."

Current TV is available in Maine on Comcast cable -- mostly in the Brunswick area -- and on the satellite services Dish Network and DirecTV.

A Comcast spokesperson said Thursday that the provider will continue to carry Current TV "per our agreement."

A Dish spokesperson said the company will be "evaluating the future plans for Current TV."

No one from DirecTV could be reached for comment.

While some Mainers who are interested in world news from various sources said Thursday that they would like to see Al Jazeera, others posted comments on Facebook saying they don't think Al Jazeera would be popular here. Some accused it of giving positive attention to "terrorists."

None of those people responded to requests to be interviewed for this story.

"I think there are a lot of misconceptions about it, just because it is based in the Middle East," said Reza Jalali, a native of Iran who works as coordinator of multicultural student affairs at the University of Southern Maine. "It is in the unfortunate situation of being disliked by both sides. Militant Muslims think it is too pro-Western, and people in the West might have an opposite opinion. That in itself speaks to its balance."

When a journalist from Al Jazeera was invited to speak at an event hosted by the General Henry Knox Museum in Thomaston in 2011, it drew protests from tea party movement members in Maine. Pete Harring, who ran the website themaineteaparty.com, called the invitation "insulting."

Harring could not be reached for comment Thursday.

People in Maine who have watched Al Jazeera or read its English language content online say it is known in most countries for being fair and balanced, and presenting more in-depth reporting than many other news outlets.

(Continued on page 2)

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Today's poll: Al Jazeera America

Are you disappointed that Time Warner won’t carry Al Jazeera America?



View Results