Following news on Wednesday that Qatari-based Al-Jazeera would acquire Current TV in the United States, cable giant Time Warner Cable dumped the channel.
Just hours after the announcement, subscribers to TWC found only this message when they switched to what was Current: "This channel is no longer available on Time Warner Cable."
Al-Jazeera—which has won numerous U.S. and international awards for its journalism and has more than 70 bureaus across the globe—said the launch of its new U.S.-based news channel will provide both domestic news and international news for American audiences.
The network has one of the largest bureau footprints and news-gathering operations of any news outlet in the world.
“For many years, we understood that we could make a positive contribution to the news and information available in and about the United States," said the network's director Ahmed bin Jassim Al Thani. "By acquiring Current TV, Al Jazeera will significantly expand our existing distribution footprint in the U.S., as well as increase our news-gathering and reporting efforts in America."
But as the Huffington Post reports:
[...] while the new channel will soon be available in 40 million households, Al Jazeera faced a setback when Time Warner Cable -- which reaches 12 million homes -- announced it was dropping the low-rated Current, which occupied a spot that could have been switched to Al Jazeera America.
Joel Hyatt, who co-founded Current TV with former Vice President Al Gore, told staff in a Wednesday night memo that Time Warner Cable "did not consent to the sale to Al Jazeera."
"Consequently, Current will no longer be carried on TWC," Hyatt wrote. "This is unfortunate, but I am confident that Al Jazeera America will earn significant additional carriage in the months and years ahead."
A Time Warner Cable spokesman said in a statement that "our agreement with Current will be terminated and we will no longer be carrying the channel."
Some media observers interpreted the move as motivated by politics.
"Time-Warner cable shows abject political and journalistic cowardice by dropping Current because of Al Jazeera deal," tweeted Dan Gilmor, a technology writer and founding director of the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship at Arizona State University.
The New York Times adds:
With a handful of exceptions (including New York City and Washington), American cable and satellite distributors have mostly refused to carry Al Jazeera English since its inception in 2006. While the television sets of White House officials and lawmakers were tuned to the channel during the Arab Spring in 2011, ordinary Americans who wanted to watch had to find a live stream on the Internet.
To change that, Al Jazeera lobbied distributors and asked supporters to write letters to the distributors — but accomplished next to nothing.
Some activists accused distributors like Comcast and DirecTV of blacklisting a channel that is widely respected elsewhere in the world.