Time Warner cable in discussions with Al-Jazeera America about carrying network

rcopley@herald-leader.comAugust 19, 2013 

Al-Jazeera America is set to make one of the most ballyhooed cable news debuts in TV history Tuesday afternoon. But Time Warner Cable subscribers in Lexington and nationwide might not see it.

Time Warner spokesman Mike Hogan, contacted Monday, said Time Warner is "in discussions with Al-Jazeera about Al-Jazeera America."

According to several media reports, Al-Jazeera America is also negotiating with other carriers to get in more homes.

Time Warner dropped Current TV, the left-leaning network co-founded by former Vice President Al Gore, after Al-Jazeera bought it in January. So, barring a late agreement with Time Warner, the new Al Jazeera network won't be available on cable in some major markets, including New York, when it debuts.

Al-Jazeera America will be available on satellite television through Dish Network (Channel 215) and DirecTV (Channel 358).

The network has received a lot of media coverage in the last week for its plans to launch a news network focused on serious, in-depth news coverage in contrast to the partisan bickering that dominates news networks including Fox News and MSNBC.

It also has stated intentions to cover news in parts of the country often ignored by other news outlets; among its 13 bureaus is one in Nashville. It also says it will schedule only six minutes of commercials each hour, compared to 15 minutes for other news networks.

For its launch, the network has retained a number of high-profile former network and cable news personalities, including former CBS News correspondent Joie Chen, who will host the network's centerpiece prime-time program, America Tonight, at 9 p.m. weekdays. One of the correspondents hired for that program is Sarah Hoye, a former Herald-Leader reporter who most recently worked for CNN.

There is widespread admiration for Al-Jazeera's goals, but some observers are wary of the network's foreign ownership — the George W. Bush administration questioned Al-Jazeera's independence in the months after the 9/11 attacks — and how much reporting might be guided by the national interests of Qatar. Employees of the network have said the deep pockets of the Middle Eastern emirate will help the network pursue its journalist goals without financial concerns.

Another of the company's networks, Al-Jazeera English, has been available online and over some widely scattered cable systems in the past decade. It is generally straightforward in its news coverage, said Philip Seib, a professor of journalism and public policy at the University of Southern California, who has written a book about Al-Jazeera.

"That's what's encouraging about Al-Jazeera America," Seib told The Associated Press. A focus on technology and science-oriented programs indicate an effort to reach smart younger viewers, he said.

Dave Marash, a former Al-Jazeera English reporter, said he thinks Al-Jazeera America will be able to produce the solid news reporting it is counting on to distinguish itself from its competition.

"Almost all of their hires are respectable people with real careers and real records," Marash said. "Several are flat-out outstanding — Sheila MacVicar is outstanding. I'm optimistic."

Rich Copley: (859) 231-3217. Twitter: @copiousnotes. Blog: Copiousnotes.bloginky.com.

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