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Top 10 End Of Al-Jazeera America Facts

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Script written by Sean Harris It was an ambitious attempt to break into the world of American news, but one that quickly failed. Welcome to WatchMojo News, the weekly series from where we break down news stories that might be on your radar. In this installment, we're counting down 10 crucial facts you should know about the end of Al Jazeera America. Got any ideas for a top 10? Head over to WatchMojo.comsuggest to submit your ideas today!

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Top 10 End Of Al-Jazeera America Facts

It was an ambitious attempt to break into the world of American news, but one that quickly failed. Welcome to WatchMojo News, the weekly series from where we break down news stories that might be on your radar.

In this installment, we’re counting down 10 crucial facts you should know about the end of Al Jazeera America.

#10: What Is Al Jazeera America?
The Company

Widely known as ‘AJAM’, Al Jazeera America is an American cable and satellite news channel owned by the Al Jazeera Media Network. It was launched in the United States on August 20th, 2013, to compete with other established news companies such as CNN, MSNBC and Fox News. AJAM first bought into the American News industry by purchasing Current TV, which was part owned by former vice-president Al Gore, in January 2013 for approximately $500 million. Around the time of AJAM’s launch, then-CEO Ehab Al Shihabi promised ‘a news channel unlike the others… providing “fact-based, unbiased and in-depth news.’

#9: Who Owns the Company?
The Government

The Al Jazeera Media Network is based in Doha, Qatar, and is funded by the Qatari government. It has 82 news bureaus around the world; a number bettered only by the BBC, and was launched on November 1st, 1996. AJMN expanded into English-language journalism in 2003, with their scope widening across Europe and North America since then. Those working for Al Jazeera have continually claimed that the company is editorially independent from the government of Qatar, but journalists have questioned these claims in the past, with conservative groups even labeling Al Jazeera as a propaganda outlet on occasion.

#8: Why Is the Company Shutting Down?
The Cost

According to Al Anstey, the current CEO of Al Jazeera America, the business model for the channel is ‘simply not sustainable in light of the economic challenges in the US media marketplace.’ After spending $500 million to secure its spot in that market in 2013, AJAM invested heavily in trying to make the channel stand out from competitors. Its hiring of high profile journalists, including Ali Velshi and Mike Viqueira, was indicative of the channel’s ambition, as was its installment of ex-ABC News Vice President Kate O’Brian as president of the network. However, the effort hasn’t led to success, as Anstey summarized the situation in an email to staff: ‘I know the closure of AJAM will be a massive disappointment for everyone here who has worked tirelessly for our long-term future,’ he wrote.

#7: What Is the Current State of Oil and What Is Its Impact?
The Fall

In early January of 2016, the price of oil fell to below $30 per barrel, for the first time in a dozen years. That fall has been cited as the reason for closing Al Jazeera America because AJAM is owned by the Al Jazeera Media Network, which is owned by the government of Qatar, which generates much of its revenue from the global oil market. AJMN was reportedly planning on making cuts across the board in light of the oil crisis, perhaps losing up to 1000 jobs, but has opted to cut-off its American strand entirely instead, which some estimates say will leave around 700 out of work.

#6: Why Did Al Jazeera America First Venture into the US Market?
The History

AJAM was actually Al Jazeera’s second venture into American TV, behind beIN Sports, which was launched in 2012. By breaking into mainstream American news however, they hoped to provide a new, fair perspective within an industry that some saw as too entrenched in Democrat/Republican politics. Seeing as the company was based in the Middle East, many expected Al Jazeera to bring broader, more reliable coverage on Middle Eastern affairs. However, AJAM increasingly focused on America’s domestic news, in a failed bid to increase their influence in the US itself. At its height, it was made available to over 55 million US homes, but analysts speculate that their viewership never surpassed 100,000.

#5: How Did They Differentiate Themselves?
The Content

AJAM prided itself on providing serious, in-depth, investigative journalism, and it did experience some success during its short existence, winning a range of awards. From the outset, it promised a news service less cluttered with politics and celeb stories. Also, because of its almost unparalleled international influence, there was a desire to bring a better standard of foreign news reporting. Furthermore, the channel aimed for a less commercial approach, showing just 6 minutes of adverts for every one-hour of broadcast, and in 2014 they began producing various documentary shows. ‘We have increasingly set ourselves apart from all the rest,’ said CEO Anstey, ‘and the achievements of the past two-and-a-half years should be a source of immense pride for everyone.’

#4: Which Controversies Discredited the Company?
The Criticism

For all its apparently good intentions, one controversy or another has forever followed AJAM. Initially, some cable providers refused to carry the channel in light of what was perceived as its anti-western stance. And although Al Jazeera did eventually receive coverage, the channel remained dogged by incidents highlighting apparent prejudice. In April 2015, ex Supervisor of Media and Archive Management, Matthew Luke, filed a $15 million lawsuit over unfair dismissal, after he’d lost his job when he’d raised concerns about his boss, Osman Mahmud related to discrimination against female employees and anti-Semitism. In May 2015, Ehab Al Shihabi was demoted from CEO amid further allegations of sexism that had been levied at the news channel, and in June the ex Senior Vice President of Programming and Documentaries, Shannon High-Bassalik sued the channel for mistreatment of employees, and for providing a biased pro-Arab coverage.

#3: How Was the Brand Received in America?
The Name

Despite AJAM’s relative success in terms of awards won, it never fared well with the American viewing public. Ratings were consistently disappointing, as it failed to win over an audience from its industry rivals. From the beginning, there was surprise that Al Jazeera had opted to keep its Arabic name and stylized logo. While its desire to remain true to its Qatari roots is reasonable and understandable, the brand never truly caught on with the average American news viewer. Perhaps as a result, AJAM’s content was often met with increased criticism. Its investigation into the use of growth hormone in sports, which implicated NFL quarterback Peyton Manning, is a prime example; while Al Jazeera maintains that its methods in producing the report were fair, it faced a backlash and was accused by some of failing to meet US journalism standards.

#2: What Is the State of the Current US Cable News Market?
The Ratings

As the American cable news market becomes one fewer, many of the criticisms of the industry that were made by AJAM upon its launch are arguably still applicable today. The likes of Fox News and MSNBC are increasingly shaped by political sympathies, and the focus on celebrity and entertainment news is getting stronger every year. Thanks in large part to the ‘Donald Trump effect’, Fox News has seen its ratings skyrocket throughout 2015, in a case fairly representative of American news in general; association with famous people and politicians is what largely dictates which channel does well.

#1: What Does This Mean for Other News Networks in the USA?
The Future

The fate of Al Jazeera, which will end operations by April 30th, 2016, serves as a bleak reminder for all but the big names in American news. The news marketplace is one that’s nearly impossible to change. While there were clear faults in the way AJAM went about its business, its original aim was to provide clear, unbiased news, and to give coverage to stories that the bigger brands wouldn’t touch. By sticking to those principles however, they’ve been ousted off of American TV screens. In some ways, it was a David and Goliath battle, but this time Goliath came out on top.

Did these facts get you thinking? To vote for which news story is covered next head over to WatchMojo.comsuggest, and be sure to hit that subscribe button for more newsworthy top tens published every week!

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