Al Jazeera English vs. The Charlie Sheen Channel


“This is strictly a business decision,” a Comcast source told Rupert Murdoch’s Web site ” target=”_hplink”>Web site, told Comcast that in the first couple of days of Egypt’s uprising, nearly half of their 10 million minutes of live-streamed coverage was being watched in the U.S.  But Comcast isn’t yet convinced; they’re worried that the audience for an Al Jazeera English cable channel would just be “news junkies and people who happen to be particularly interested in the Middle East for the moment and will tune out as soon as news out of the region slows down.”

So for Comcast, which just completed its purchase of NBC Universal, it comes down to whether carrying Al Jazeera English is a better business bet than carrying The Vampire Network or Showtime Abs ’n’ Buns.

The notion that ideology isn’t a factor for an American cable company considering carriage for Al Jazeera: this would have been inconceivable in the wake of September 11th.  Just days after that attack, Secretary of State Colin Powell ” target=”_hplink”>calling Al Jazeera “incendiary,” “opportunistic” and “shameless,” wrote that it “deliberately fans the flames of Muslim outrage,” and that its “virulent anti-American bias undercuts all of its virtues. It is, in the final analysis, a dangerous force.”  Soon Fareed Zakaria was ” target=”_hplink”>said, “Thank you for what you’re doing” to Al Jazeera.  KCET began airing a daily half-hour of Al Jazeera English.  A New York Times story about the anti-authoritarian outcry now rocking the Arab world ” target=”_hplink”>ad in the Times citing those quotes, as well as praise for its “great reporting” from MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, and The Nation’s judgment that Al Jazeera carried the “most comprehensive coverage of any network in any language hands down.”  And just last week, ” target=”_hplink”>told its members that – in contrast to the “million commercials and… arguments between talking heads and the kind of stuff that we do on our news which… is not particularly informative to us, let alone foreigners”—Al Jazeera is “real news around the clock.”

It’s this apparent new journalistic legitimacy, born of its coverage of the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Bahrain and across the Arab world, that has made it possible for Comcast to weigh the pros and cons of adding Al Jazeera English to the lineup without politics putting a thumb on the scale.

Not that that legitimacy isn’t being disputed.  In response to Sam Donaldson’s thank you, Fox talking head Bill O’Reilly ” target=”_hplink”>Norman Lear chair in entertainment, media and society at the martyk@usc.edu.

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