Al Jazeera America Floundering; 'Propaganda Points' Keep It Afloat

Image: Al Jazeera America Floundering; 'Propaganda Points' Keep It Afloat

Tuesday, 01 Apr 2014 11:20 AM

By Cheryl K. Chumley

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It's been not even a year since launch day, but Al Jazeera America is already flopping in the U.S. media market.

The Qatar-financed venture kicked off last August, buying out the flailing Al Gore Current TV project for $500 million. But even with access to 55 million U.S. homes — up from about 44 million in December, after Time Warner added it to its cable program lineup — Al Jazeera is struggling.

The channel doesn't even pull in the meager number of viewers that watched Current TV.

On an average day, the station pulls in only about 10,000 viewers at any given time. Moreover, its target audience — the 25- to 54-year-old crowd — is largely unimpressed. Nielsen figures show the station gets about 5,000 viewers in this demographic on average daily. On a good day, it brings in 15,000 total viewers during prime time.

That's barely a flick on the radar screen. Even Current TV reported about 31,000 viewers on average at its height in 2012.

Bill O'Reilly of "The O'Reilly Factor" on Fox News, by comparison, pulls in an average nightly viewership that often nears 3 million. Fox News Channel, meanwhile, averages about 350,000 viewers throughout day; CNN and MSNBC pull around 175,000 and 121,000, respectively.

"I think Al Jazeera America is dropping off because America just doesn't want to watch that kind of propaganda," Jim Phillips, a Middle East analyst with the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., told Newsmax. "Al Jazeera is primarily a propaganda outlet that masks itself as a run-of-the-mill news program."

Phillips said he found it curious that the royals in Qatar who started the station in America don't allow free press in their own country — but nonetheless agreed to kick in millions of dollars to spread the "Muslim Brotherhood message and the Islamic message" in the West.

"It's no coincidence many of their reporters operate closely with the al-Qaida propaganda," he said, explaining that while the journalists may not be members of radical groups, some are nonetheless tied to or indirectly influenced by the radicalized Islamist messages.

On the issue of Al Jazeera America's plunging revenues, Phillips said he didn't think the owners cared so much so long as they "scored propaganda points."

Al Jazeera programming often paints America in the darkest of lights with emotion-charged narratives that don't tell the entire truth, one media analyst found.

Eliana Johnson, media editor for National Review, opined in a recent piece: "Much of [Al Jazeera's] reporting presents to an American audience a rather bleak vision of their country — heroin in Vermont, domestic violence in South Carolina, subpar neonatal care in Ohio — that hasn't been covered extensively by other networks, but probably for a reason: These things aren't really that much of a problem. But AJA is determined to paint a dreary, depressing and often pedantic view of the country in which we live."

It is this "doom-and-gloom" type of reporting that's proving a real turnoff for American viewers, Johnson wrote.

But Al Jazeera promised from the get-go it would be a different type of broadcast news outlet, turning away from fluff and celebrity gossip for hard-core and impactful pieces that other organizations shied away from covering.

CEO Ehab Al Shihabi thinks the network is still on track. "We can reshape the market," he told USA Today earlier this year.

Advertisers, however, aren't so confident. The network has brought in some much-ballyhooed talent — hiring a total of 12 investigative reporters with decades of collective experience — and added shows with dramatic appeal like "Borderland," which explores the travels of six Americans as they try to figure out what happened to three Mexicans who died crossing the border. Nevertheless, big-name ad buyers are nearly nonexistent.

Advertising Age reported that Al Jazeera went live with the promotional backing of giant Proctor & Gamble's Gillette, but has since brought onboard only smaller revenue-producing marketers like Hip Hop Abs and Hair Club for Men.

"None of my clients are jumping on board just yet," Steve Kalb, senior vice president and a director of broadcast media at the advertising firm Mullen, said in an Advertising Age report. "There's a little more interest than when the network launched. It is a good, quality product. But viewership is still so small."

In the end, none of that may matter since profits don't seem to be Al Jazeera's chief motive.

"Al Jazeera America gambled that there is a sizable, underserved TV news audience that will eventually tune in to see its investigative reporting that is often critical and very different than the entertainment-infused news on cable TV currently," William Youmans, assistant professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University, told Newsmax.

Youmans blamed the slow revenue stream the station is facing on a saturated television market and heavy Internet news competition, and the fact that many of Al Jazeera's most ardent supporters in reality turn to online sources rather than TV for their daily reports.

Still, the channel's not folding "any time soon," Youmans said.

"Al Jazeera America is not driven by profit. Qatar essentially funds it, though not to be a direct government mouthpiece. All the Al Jazeera channels exist because they help promote Qatar by making it visible, which translates into influence," he said, calling it a "prestige project."

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