Al-Jazeera America faces steep climb among U.S. viewers

RNS) Al-Jazeera and America, two name brands often at odds since 9/11, were wed as one on Tuesday (Aug. 20) when the Qatar-based media network began broadcasting its U.S. news channel Al-Jazeera America from New York.

 

This is not the first time Al-Jazeera has tried to find a home on American TV. Al-Jazeera English debuted with an international focus in 2006 but was never picked up in major media markets outside the Northeast.

 

From CNN to MSNBC to Fox, the leading cable and satellite news channels all struggled to gain and hold viewers, credibility and profit for years after their launch. But for Al-Jazeera America, deep-seated prejudices among some U.S. audiences are likely to make this uphill slog even steeper.

 

With some 800 journalists and staff and bureaus in 12 U.S. cities, Al-Jazeera America bills itself as a network committed to “rebalancing global media by respecting the diversity and humanity of the world” and “giving a voice to the voiceless.”

Although once ranked among Apple, Google, Ikea and Starbucks as one of the world’s most influential brands, many Americans still view Al-Jazeera with suspicion — in part because of  Al-Jazeera’s decision to air messages it received from Osama bin Laden after the 9/11 attacks.

The take-away for many viewers was that Al-Jazeera was nothing more than a mouthpiece for terrorists.

Some influential commentators continue to label Al-Jazeera anti-American or to imply the network is somehow a front for terrorism. For many Americans, perceptions of the network are tied up with negative feelings toward the Middle East, Arabs and Islam.

“I’m afraid the terms Middle East, Arab and Muslim are all often lumped together under Muslim,” said Roger Owen, professor of Middle East history at Harvard University.

John Esposito, director of Georgetown University’s Center for Muslim-Christian Understandingand the author of several books on contemporary Islam, said Al-Jazeera America will have to deal with a segment of the population that is biased against Islam.

The Tampa-based Florida Family Association, which opposes what it perceives to be the “Islamization” of America, recently launched a campaign demanding major companies stop advertising on the channel.