American Jewish leaders have expressed “concern” about the impending entry of the Qatari-owned Al Jazeera network to the U..S television market, citing its record of anti-Israeli coverage and support for extremist Muslim regimes.
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Both Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents and Abe Foxman, head of the Anti-Defamation League publicly voiced their apprehensions on Friday in the wake of reports that former U.S. Vice President Al Gore had sold his Current TV network to Al-Jazeera for $500 million. The sale will allow Al Jazeera to gain access to tens of millions of American homes in which Current TV had been available through various cable providers.
Hoenlein said that although the network’s English-language coverage has been more balanced and had given a platform to Israeli spokesperson, “their general coverage has served to destabilize regimes and favor some of the more extremist elements in the Arab world.”
Foxman was even harsher in his criticism of the station, saying in an official ADL communiqué that “Al Jazeera has a troubling record and history that is very disturbing, particularly in its Arabic language broadcasts. It has exploited and exaggerated the Arab-Israel conflict in a heavy-handed and propagandistic manner, and always at the expense of Israel, while giving all manner of virulent anti-Israel and even anti-Semitic extremists access to its airwaves.”
Both Hoenlein and Foxman, however, stopped short of calling for any public campaign or legal intervention in the sale. Hoenlein told Haaretz that according to legal advice he had received, there was no way to prevent the “merger” between Al Jazeera and Current TV anyway.
The controversial network, which has revolutionized news coverage in the Arab world, launched its English-language broadcasts in 2006. It has struggled to gain access to American homes because of the ongoing refusal of U.S. cable providers to carry it. With the purchase of Current TV the path might now be easier, although one of the biggest U.S. cable providers, Time Warner, has stated that as its contract with Current TV had expired, it may not carry Al Jazeera either.
Al Jazeera's decision both before and after the World Trade Center bombings in 2001 to allow al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden a platform from which to broadcast to the Arab world angered the Bush Administration and raised opposition to the network in American public opinion. But that has changed in recent years, especially after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton publicly praised the network for its coverage of the Tahrir Square demonstrations in Cairo and the outbreak of the Arab spring.
In his comments, Hoenlein alluded to press reports that Al Gore and other owners had flatly refused to consider a bid to buy Current TV made by well-known conservative columnist and broadcaster Glenn Beck. “We saw reports that that Current TV had ruled out other ideological buyers and they support ‘speaking truth to power. ‘But we don’t see Al Jazeera speaking truth about the Qatari government and its own support for some very extremist elements.”
Foxman said, "In its English version lately Al Jazeera has toned down its anti-Israel propaganda. Yet it continues to be of great concern. We will be watching and monitoring the broadcasts as they become available to a much wider audience in the United States."