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The Al Jazeera Purchase

There are those who are taking delight in pointing out that former vice president Al Gore, perhaps the individual most identified with the movement to reduce greenhouse emissions, now stands to make a personal profit of $100 million in the sale of the TV station he headed to the Al Jazeera network, wholly owned by the oil-rich Qatari royal family.

Really, though, who cares about Al Gore? Did anyone expect better from a former professional politician whose views went through wholesale shifts during his years in the House and Senate and while running for president and serving as vice president? And while there is nothing illegal about Al Jazeera breaking into the American news market in a really big way, legality and wisdom don’t always converge.

In his Council on Foreign Relations blog, former senior State Department official Elliott Abrams said this about the sale:

Henceforth, tens of millions of Americans will receive Al Jazeera English in their homes. It would be nice if the channel carried a little warning label to viewers, clarifying who owns Al Jazeera so that they understand they are getting all the news…that the Qatari government wants them to have.

Abrams went on to note that the British government owns the BBC, Deutsche Welle is owned by the German government, France 24 is controlled by a French government agency and even the Voice of America is owned by the U.S. government. But, he said, they and others like them openly disclose their provenance on their websites. Yet this is what Al Jazeera’s website declares:

Al-Jazeera English is an international news channel with over sixty bureaus around the world that span six different continents…. Al Jazeera English is part of the Al Jazeera Network – one of the world’s leading media corporations, encompassing news, documentary and sport channels….

Nothing at all about the Qatar connection.

Abrams summed up:

Every government has the right to present a news channel, and has the right to decide whether that channel will be fully independent of government policy – like the BBC – or will reflect government policy – like Al Jazeera. The answer is not censorship, but candor; if Al Jazeera were called Voice of Qatar, and clearly labeled as that nation’s international broadcaster, the situation would be clear to its viewers.

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