Al-Jazeera Buys Current TV But Faces Distrib Hurdles

PAN-ARAB news network Al-Jazeera has acquired Current TV, the US cable channel co-founded by US vice president Al Gore.

Al-Jazeera will close Current TV and replace it with new network Al-Jazeera America. Gore will stay on as a member of the network’s advisory board. The acquisition was meant to boost penetration in the US market but the plan faces some serious distribution hurdles.

Current TV reaches 60 million of the 100 million US households with cable or satellite service. Just hours after the acquisition was announced, however, Time Warner, which accounts for 12 million of those homes, said it was terminating its carriage deal. It is likely other distributors may follow suit.

Al-Jazeera English was set up in 2006, and like its parent broadcaster Al-Jazeera, is owned by the Quatari state. Over the years, the broadcaster had gained some respect for its independence but more recently, Quatar has taken steps to consolidate its control over the channel.

In September 2012, the channel faced charges its editorial independence was being usurped when the news director stepped in to re-edit coverage of the UN debate on Syrian intervention. Originally the news coverage was meant to lead off with excerpts of President Obama’s speech but it was re-edited to lead with comments from Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa-al-Thani, the emir of Quatar. Obama’s comments were relegated to the end of the news package.