Al-Jazeera America calls it quits

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After only about three years on the air, Al-Jazeera America is shutting down.

As of this month, the network will no longer broadcast in the U.S., with a final broadcast airing on April 12.

The experiment began when Al Jazeera bought Al Gore's Current TV at the beginning of 2013. The station went live that August. While winning awards for broadcast journalism, the station faced its share of problems. First, there was a suit by Al Gore for breach of contract. There were claims that the network was manipulated for propaganda purposes. One former employee, Matthew Luke, brought suit against the network, claiming anti-Semitism and misogynistic attitudes at the station’s offices. After shuffling off some chief executives and legal counsel, Al-Jazeera America was once again in the spotlight for claims linking famed NFL quarterback Peyton Manning to doping.

The somewhat abrupt closure leaves those with an interest in the industry wondering exactly what factors led to the takedown of a broadcasting office that, while battling some very serious charges and accusations, played a role in cross-continental news delivery and was a mainstay for many Gulf Region natives living in America.

Stephany Hemelberg is a bilingual entrepreneur, journalist and content writer working at Alma Makers in the San Francisco Bay area. One of her articles, “Between the headlines of the Israeli — Arabic conflict: The coverage of CNN and Al Jazeera” engages ideas about journalism and the difference between cultures and different media networks.

“There were lots of reasons why Al Jazeera America was a failure.” Hemelberg told the Gulf News Journal April 13. “But I think the initial investment is not one of them. Al Jazeera's 'how to' was extremely different from most media in the Western world, especially in the U.S… and of course the very public battlefield where employees were out shaming the hostile environment, plays an important role in this epic failure.”

Hemelberg also suggested that it was ultimately the image of the network itself that led backers to shutter the station.

“Misogynistic, anti-Semitic and anti-American comments should be taking seriously, anytime, anywhere.” Hemelberg said. “With that being said, I think that what really condemned Al Jazeera was not the lawsuit itself, but how this affects its public image in a culture already full of stereotypes.”

A Guardian article from 2010 quotes U.S. Embassy statements in July 2009 claiming the channel had been “a useful tool for the station's political masters.”

Hemelberg qualified that, to some degree.

“I would not use the word ‘manipulated’ ” Hemelberg said. “I would replace it with a dynamic of framing…All media, everywhere, responds to particular interests, regardless if they are economic or political. So it’s not possible to contemplate Al Jazeera out of this power dynamic that is common in media itself.”

Hemelberg talked about the differences she found in investigating the two media venues, and how it revealed the power of political and economic dynamics. Even the use of individual words and phrases, she said, are often more strategic than viewers or listeners might realize.

“Media is the ultimate battlefield.” Hemelberg said.
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