The demise of Al Jazeera America, which announced it is shutting its doors in April did not surprise many. The Qatari-owned network suffered from a perception problem in the United States going back to the post 9/11 period when the channel’s main broadcast outlet in Doha served as a virtual propaganda arm for Al-Qaida and reform movements against conservative pro-American dictatorships in the Arab world. As someone who has many personal qualms about doing any sort of business with Qatar, a state that actively enslaves South Asians and practices a rigid version of Shi’a Islam, I wasn’t keen on Al Jazeera setting up shop in the United States.
I reacted with consternation as Al Jazeera’s sports arm BeIN Sports set up shop for its US operation in Miami and collected soccer properties of note – including Spain’s La Liga, The English League Cup competition and random North American World Cup Qualifiers. BeIN acquiring properties pushed me further into the arms of my favored English Premier League whose US rights holder, NBC Sports seemed perfectly moral by comparison.
But Al Jazeera America proved to be surprise to me. From the get go they hired accomplished TV journalists, the types that actually dig deeper into stories and began to focus on investigative journalism. Rather than become a political gossip channel or a tabloid network that thrived on airplane accidents, Al Jazeera focused on issues like poverty, health care, fracking, water quality and corporate responsibility.
The demise of the network tells us one of two things – it either says:
1) American TV viewers are not ready for thoughtful and reasoned discussion of serious quality of life issues and prefer the shout shows dominated by political talking heads or the celebrity gossip that dominates other cable news outlets OR
2) A degree of xenophobia or nativism prevents a channel with a distinctly Arab-sounding name from gaining traction among American viewers.
Either way the shutdown of the American division of Al Jazeera is a loss to those looking for reasoned journalism that de-politicizes critical issues.