NEW YORK –- 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 warnedit might drop Current due to low ratings. On Twitter, Stelter noted that Al Jazeera willacquire Current’s carriage deals with other cable providers, including DirecTV, Comcast, Dish, Verizon and AT&T.
Al Jazeera English received awards and acclaim for its comprehensive coverage of the Arab Spring protests in 2011, yet it has still faced an uphill battle in gaining cable distribution in the U.S., likely due to lingering fears of anti-American programming raised in the George W. Bush years. The Bush administration condemned Al Jazeera for its Arabic-language network’s coverage of the Iraq War and broadcasting of al Qaeda tapes, even targeting its headquarters in Baghdad during the Iraq War. Perceptions that the news organization, which is funded by Qatar’s government, is anti-American continue even as U.S. political leaders such as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) have praised the network’s reporting abroad.
While major U.S. cable companies have refused to carry the network, it has made some progress in getting Al Jazeera English in front of American viewers. For instance, the Al Jazeera English broadcast is currently carried in New York City over the RISE network (Ch. 92), even though it doesn’t have its own place on the dial.
Al Anstey, managing director of Al Jazeera English, acknowledged to The Huffington Post in August 2011 that “in the United States of America, there were myths and misconceptions that needed to be tackled about what Al Jazeera stood for and what Al Jazeera English stood for and stands for.”
However, Anstey said, the network was making progress and “getting known, building the reputation, establishing ourselves for the unique content that we put out there … By doing that, we obviously addressed many of those misconceptions that existed in the past.”
On Wednesday, Al Jazeera management expressed confidence that there’s strong demand for its programming in the U.S., which already accounts for 40 percent of the viewership of its streaming English-language network.
“U.S. viewers have clearly demonstrated that they like the way Al Jazeera provides compelling, in-depth news to audiences across the world,” said Al Jazeera’s director general, Ahmed bin Jassim Al Thani, in a statement. “Everyone at Al Jazeera takes great pride in the independence, impartiality, professionalism and courage of our journalism. I look forward to bringing these standards to our new American audiences and working with our new colleagues at Current.”
Al Jazeera America will be headquartered in New York City, and the network said it plans to double its U.S.-based staff to more than 300.
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