Since the news broke earlier this week about the sale of Al Gore's ultra-liberal Current TV, much has been said about who bought the channel (Al Jazeera) and who tried -- but was rejected (Glenn Beck). Beyond that story, the media deal brings many questions to light.
Who owns Al Jazeera?
That's a fairly simple question. The network is owned by the Qatari government, which is run by the Al Thani family. The U.S. State Department describes Qatar this way:
Qatar is an hereditary constitutional monarchy governed by the ruling Al Thani family in consultation with a council of ministers, an appointed advisory council and an elected municipal council.
It's a kingdom -- complete with a royal family that controls massive wealth from their substantial oil and gas reserves.
Will "Al Jazeera America" (one reported new name of the channel) keep any of the programs from the Current TV lineup?
Perhaps a better phrasing of that question would be: Why would Al Jazeera keep any of the programs from the Current TV lineup?
Most reports about the sale have mentioned that the Qatar-owned outlet was buying Current TV not for its programming but for the access to an estimated 42 million cable TV households that carried it. If cable operators allow Al Jazeera to simply slide into Current's channel position, that increases its potential audience nearly tenfold. However, that plan was also hit with a significant body shot this week: Almost immediately after the sales was announced, cable giant Time Warner -- the fourth-largest provider in the country -- announced that it was dropping Current TV from its systems.
Joy Behar, Stephanie Miller, Elliot Spitzer and others at Current have undoubtedly been aware of the difficulty network has had in establishing an audience. Despite being in almost half of the country's cable TV households, Current and its programming is virtually unknown to an overwhelming majority of Americans. Most of the awareness came from the hosts promoting their shows on other outlets. Joy Behar could plug her "Say Anything!" show on ABC's "The View" and radio talkers like Bill Press and Stephanie Miller were able to flog their television efforts on radio, but none of these translated to ratings significant enough to argue for the channel's survival.
It also seems unlikely that Al Jazeera would openly accept some of the shows on Current. After all, the channel is owned by the Qatari government and the country has some very strict rules when it comes to lifestyles and behaviors. The State Department again offers offers some vital information about the network's new owners:
Islamic beliefs and tribal traditions provide an important foundation of the country’s customs, laws and practices.
Translation: Shariah law is the standard in Qatar.
Current's new bosses are also not as tolerant of the broad spectrum of "lifestyles" we see here in America. Some of the openly gay hosts, like Stephanie Miller, might have to ask themselves if they could work for a company that would consider them criminals who deserved to be whipped and locked away in prison? Again, we're quoting the State Department's public information on Qatar:
Homosexual activity is considered to be a criminal offense, and those convicted may be sentenced to lashings, a prison sentence, and/or deportation.
Gay lifestyles are not the only problem that Al Jazeera's owners might have with some of their new employees. People with HIV/AIDS are advised against visiting the country:
Qatar does not allow individuals with HIV/AIDS to live in the country. Medical exams are required for all long-term visitors and residents. Individuals who have HIV/AIDS may be subject to deportation
The country is also very strict on what women can wear in public. Qatar does not require all women to wear the burqa in public, but it does take issue with many wardrobe choices considered acceptable in America:
Foreign visitors are expected to remain sensitive to Islamic beliefs and practices and not dress in a revealing or provocative manner, including the wearing of sleeveless shirts and blouses, halter tops and shorts.
In addition to Qatar's constraints on fashion, free speech is also something that the new owners have issues with. Again, from the guidance of the State Department:
Incidents involving insults or obscene language/gestures often result in arrest, overnight imprisonment and/or fines whether the incident occurs between private parties or involves officers of the law. Insulting someone in public is considered a punishable offense.
Based on that information, one could safely assume that most of the Current TV lineup, if the channel were carried in Qatar, would be subject to arrest on a daily basis, if they ever set foot in the country.
And what if Al Jazeera were to offer to keep any of the Current TV hosts? Would any of the very liberal on-camera talent agree to stay if offered a position with a company run by a gay-hating, free speech squelching, theocratic monarchy that makes its billions selling oil and gas?
One high profile host on Current TV has already announced that she is leaving the network: Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, host of "The War Room."
Image: Current TV
While media outlets seemed to draw a line connecting the end of Granholm's TV show with the Al Jazeera purchase, Granholm's Facebook announcement sought to debunk that:
"My agreement with Current was for the duration of the election (and the sale). It has been a very fun adventure; we are blessed with a wonderful team. We'll continue to broadcast 'The War Room' for the next few weeks through the transition, but after that I'll be going back to teaching, speaking and other things."
It will certainly be interesting to see if Al Jazeera retains any of the present staff from Current TV. To date, they have only stated some rather vague intentions.
Al Jazeera spokesman Stan Collender told USA Today that the new channel "will offer straightforward, in-depth journalism," but many in the news media are dubious of that statement. Al Jazeera does not exactly have a spotless record for "straightforward" reporting:
In 2008, former ABC-TV Nightline reporter Dave Marash, brought on to anchor Al Jazeera English for American audiences, quit after two years and said the anti-American bias at the station was "reflexive."
Media watchdog groups have also stepped up to voice their concerns about this deal. Andrea Levin, president and director of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, told USA TODAY:
"The agreement by Al Jazeera cable television network to buy Current TV is not necessarily a plus for U.S. cable operators or their audiences. It (Al Jazeera Arabic) is not the Middle East equivalent of CNN, as it is often but mistakenly described."
Qaradawi - Host of "Sharia and Life"
Ms. Levin cites a specific example when speaking of one of the channel's most popular programs called "Sharia and Life."
...hosted by Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a former "spiritual guide" of the Muslim Brotherhood. Al-Qaradawi has called for conversion of Europe and North America to Islam and a Muslim-led genocide of Israel and the Jews.
Earlier this week, TheBlaze covered Al-Qaradawi and his ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Jazeera.
With that, many questions still remain:
- How many of Current TV's 40million plus cable households will remain after cable companies consider the new owners and what might be seen on the channel?
- Will there be straight-forward reporting on Al-Jazeera America?
- If offered jobs on the new network, will any of the Current TV talent agree to work for a company with ownership that considers gays to be criminals who deserve to be whipped and jailed?
We'll be watching.