editorial | Time Warner vs. Al Jazeera

Viewers should decide whether to watch Al Jazeera America

Time Warner Cable’s statement was terse, but its timing spoke volumes. Explaining the end of its relationship with the beleaguered liberal news network Current TV, the cable distributor to 12 million homes stated that “our agreement with Current will be terminated and we will no longer be carrying the channel.” Given that Current TV has few viewers, Time Warner Cable’s decision might have passed with little notice. But only a few hours earlier, the Qatar-based network Al Jazeera had announced it is buying Current TV for $500 million in hopes of gaining traction in US markets. Thus, it is difficult to see how Time Warner Cable’s move wasn’t anything other than a reflexive rejection of Al Jazeera, based on an outdated sense of the network’s content. Time Warner Cable should let the market, and viewers, decide if America is ready for the network’s newest station, Al Jazeera America.

Al Jazeera is a media empire with a presence around the globe. But Al Jazeera has always struggled with American cable operators who recall its early coverage of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, which was notably more skeptical of US aims than that of American networks. Al Jazeera has evolved considerably since then. It has been a largely independent and indispensable source of news on the Arab Spring and its aftermath. It has been praised by both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Senator John McCain for providing high-quality coverage. But companies like Time Warner Cable seem unwilling even to give viewers the option of checking it out. Still, many seem interested; 40 percent of viewers on its streaming English-language Internet network are from the United States.

The new deal was going to provide Al Jazeera America with the spots on the cable dial that Current TV held. Time Warner Cable did not explain why it refused to go along. To their credit, DirecTV, Comcast, Dish, Verizon, and AT&T are all going to give Al Jazeera America a chance. Unfortunately, Time Warner Cable seems to have already made that decision for its subscribers.