The transition from Al Gore's low-rated Current TV cable channel to Al Jazeera America will conclude on Tuesday, August 20, when the newest addition to the Qatar-based international news network will be sent into about 40 million homes in the U.S.
Ever since the purchase was made public in early January, Ehab Al Shihabi -- the channel's executive in charge -- has been attempting to hire high-profile staff members, including long-time Cable News Network reporters Ali Velshi and Soledad O'Brien, to draw viewers to the new network, even though it doesn't yet have a chief executive or chief programmer.
In a statement released last April, Al Shihabi said:
We are thrilled to secure Ali’s extraordinary talents and services. Al Jazeera America will be bringing respected, independent reporting to its viewers, and that’s exactly the type of coverage Ali Velshi is known for.
“I’m thrilled to be joining Al Jazeera America, an organization that puts quality, fact-based journalism first,” CNN's former chief business correspondent said in response.
It’s a tremendous opportunity, and I look forward to taking advantage of the extraordinary U.S. news-gathering capabilities the channel is building and working with such a diverse and talented group of colleagues to tell compelling stories that matter to Americans.
Velshi's 30-minute “prime-time business program” will air weekly at first and "cover such topics as employment, personal finance, health care and education” in a mix of “field reports, studio guests and interactive discussions designed to highlight how economic developments in the U.S. and around the globe affect the daily lives of Americans.”
Then on July 1, The Wrap reported that former CNN anchor Soledad O'Brien had reached a deal with Al Jazeera America “in which she will contribute short segments and her production company, Starfish Media Group, will produce hour-long documentary specials.”
In addition, O’Brien will serve as a special correspondent to Al Jazeera America’s prime-time current affairs magazine program America Tonight.
“O’Brien’s career producing and reporting on the human side of many of the most important stories of the past decade will fit in perfectly with what Al Jazeera America will be covering every day,” said Al Shihabi.
While network officials initially stated that roughly 60 percent of the programming would be produced in the United States and the remaining 40 percent would come from the international Al Jazeera English network, they now say more of the programming will be generated in several American cities.
The channel will also air an American version of The Stream, one of the most popular programs on Al Jazeera English. Like its counterpart, the new show will be anchored by former ABC News correspondent Lisa Fletcher and will originate in Washington, D.C.
Al Shihabi said:
The Stream will generate diverse and robust discussion that challenges both the viewers and guests. Its unique format will set the show apart with issues, guests and discussion that won’t be found anywhere else.
As NewsBusters previously reported, former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw recently admitted watching Al Jazeera programming, and the channel's Mike Viqueira moved to the new network to serve as its White House reporter.
However, the news hasn't always been good for Al Jazeera America. Hours after the purchase of Current TV was announced in January, Time Warner Cable dropped the station with a message to viewers: “This channel is no longer available on Time Warner Cable” because the cable TV system “did not consent to the sale” by Al Gore.
Of course, the purpose of the network is to bring Al Jazeera, which is financed by the government of Qatar and therefore airs few commercials, into closer competition with the news channels in the United States.
But right from the start, it's obvious that the new network is coming from a culture different from our own. After all, what TV news network starts its run on a Tuesday, when Monday is the obvious choice in the U.S. and most of the world?