Will Al Jazeera America bring journalism back to the United States?
Al Jazeera is coming to America. At the beginning of 2013, the publicly funded Qatar-based broadcaster acquired Current TV, a progressive television station co-founded by ex-vice president Al Gore. The $500 million price tag appeared a little steep for a waning news channel, but it was the only way for Al Jazeera to get direct access to the American cable market.
Unlike Al Jazeera’s Arab and English networks, Al Jazeera America will cater solely to an American audience and will be in straight competition with other cable news channels such as MSNBC, CNN & Fox News.
The transition from Current TV to Al Jazeera America is still at least six months away. While there are many questions to be answered, one wonders if Al Jazeera will bring back quality, in depth, fact based investigative journalism Americans have been deprived of for the last thirty years.
Together, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) abolishment of the fairness doctrine in the 1980’s and Bill Clinton’s Telecommunications Act of 1996 has had a devastating impact on mainstream journalism.
The media shrank from more than fifty national media outlets in the 1980’s to the six that remain today. Corporate boardrooms now control which stories get aired in an effort to appease sponsors. Prime time news coverage on CBS, ABC and NBC stick to unbiased positions rather than reporting on the facts. Worst of all, the news isn’t about providing important information to the people anymore; it’s about profiting off of them.
As a result of all this, we have been fed an endless dose of mindless infotainment for decades and have forgotten what real journalism is. Take for example Investigative journalism; it used to be the corner stone of every newsroom.
Journalists used to use a combination of research and undercover work to expose government and corporate corruption, two areas the police and FBI ignore. Now, Investigative journalism has all but disappeared. Corporate newsrooms aren’t willing to shell out money for their journalists to investigate what could be their own sponsors. We are now down to just a few worthy websites like Motherjones who continue the investigative practice.
Getting back to Al Jazeera America, it remains to be seen what their intentions are. Will they follow in their parent networks footsteps and bring some well needed intelligent news coverage or will they dumb themselves down and bring an Americanized version of their coverage? Right now all things are pointing to the former.
Al Jazeera is a publicly funded company; it does not have to answer to sponsors as it is a non-profit business. Al Jazeera has no real budget ceiling; funds for investigative journalists are virtually limitless if the story is important enough. The point I’m trying to make here is the importance of a publicly funded, yet independent media company.
Currently the United States Government allocates $1.50 per US citizen a year to public broadcasting (PBS). Compare this to the $34.00 Canadians pay for the CBC and for the BBC, the British pay even more. These public broadcasters keep the other national networks from falling too far out of line and are central to the information the citizens of these countries receive. In the absence of government broadcasting funds in the United States, Al Jazeera is the next best thing.
The question is will anybody watch it if the network is indeed what we hope it will be? People of any political ideology who regularly watch CNN will be drawn to Al Jazeera’s in depth coverage of national and international news. Those of us who watch MSNBC will finally have an alternative when all their prison shows come on. As for Fox News, their viewers already label Al Jazeera as the mouthpiece for terrorists and socialists; the only thing that will change the views of Fox News viewers, is Fox News.
Al Jazeera America will have an audience, whether that audience will be big enough to compete with the big three is irrelevant to me so long as the network is successful in changing the way news is presented across the airwaves of the United States… And they have to keep Cenk Uygur and The Young Turks on the air; they are too good to not have a voice on national television.