The big media news yesterday was that former Vice President Al Gore sold his struggling liberal cable channel “Current” to Al Jazeera, the network originally launched as an Arabic news and currrent affairs cable channel. The big news today is that Time Warner has now dumped it from its line up — and Time Warner is now under fire for doing so.
But the bottom line is this: Al Jazeera, which has won praise in recent years for some of its coverage of the Middle-East and the Arab spring, remains a highly controversial network with some of its critics who say it is anti-Israel and/or sympathetic to terrorist groups — rightfully or wrongfully. So Time Warner’s decision is not a total shock, nor is the controversy now exploding around its decision to yank it from the line up. Al Jazeera can be a polarizing subject, the quality of its reporting aside. The Huffington Post:
Time Warner Cable pulled the plug on Current TV just hours after news of the cable channel’s sale to Al Jazeera became official.
“This channel is no longer available on Time Warner Cable,” read an on-screen message where Current TV used to be found.
Al Jazeera took a major step into the U.S. cable market Wednesday by acquiring beleaguered Current TV and announcing plans for a U.S.-based news network to be called Al Jazeera America. But while the new channel will soon be available in 40 million households, Al Jazeera faced a setback when Time Warner Cable — which reaches 12 million homes — announced it was dropping the low-rated Current, which occupied a spot that could have been switched to Al Jazeera America.
Joel Hyatt, who co-founded Current TV with former Vice President Al Gore, told staff in a Wednesday night memo that Time Warner Cable “did not consent to the sale to Al Jazeera.”
“Consequently, Current will no longer be carried on TWC,” Hyatt wrote. “This is unfortunate, but I am confident that Al Jazeera America will earn significant additional carriage in the months and years ahead.”
A Time Warner Cable spokesman said in a statement that “our agreement with Current will be terminated and we will no longer be carrying the channel.”
Some media observers interpreted the move as motivated by politics.
“Time-Warner cable shows abject political and journalistic cowardice by dropping Current because of Al Jazeera deal,” tweeted Dan Gilmor, a technology writer and founding director of the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship at Arizona State University.
The Time Warner Cable spokesman would not comment on politics when reached by The Huffington Post, but said via email that “we do have an agreement with [Al Jazeera English], though we have no plans to launch it at this time.”
Al Jazeera America will be separate from Al Jazeera English, although roughly 40 percent of the new network’s programming is expected to come from the English-language channel, which is based in Doha, Qatar.
New York Times reporter Brian Stelter reported that Time Warner Cable had warned it might drop Current due to low ratings. On Twitter, Stelter noted that Al Jazeera will acquire Current’s carriage deals with other cable providers, including DirecTV, Comcast, Dish, Verizon and AT&T.