IT HAS won respect and awards for its street-level reporting of the Arab Spring protests, and attracted dedicated audiences in 130 countries, but al-Jazeera has struggled to make an impact in the most lucrative media market - the US - reaching only a tiny minority of households there.
But the Qatar-based broadcaster has signalled its ambition to change that, reportedly paying $US500 million ($479 million) for the cable network Current TV, a deal that could leave Current's co-founder, the former US vice-president Al Gore, $US100 million better off.
Al-Jazeera said on Wednesday that it planned to launch a New York-based news channel on the network, likely to be called al-Jazeera America, which it hoped would ''make a positive contribution to the news and information available in and about the US''.
The new channel will be separate from al-Jazeera English, which broadcasts from Doha.
For the cash-rich al-Jazeera, which is available to only 4.7 million US households, the benefits of the purchase are obvious. Current TV has struggled to attract significant audiences since its establishment as a liberal news channel in 2005, but its distribution deals give it a potential reach of almost 60 million US homes.
But the Middle Eastern broadcaster, owned by the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, faces challenges in its attempt to become a mainstream US network, notably a lingering suspicion among viewers about its origins and political position.
Time Warner Cable, the second-biggest US cable company, immediately dropped Current TV on the news of its sale, without saying why. Time Warner Cable's chief executive, Glenn Britt, said last month that it would take a firmer line on renewing channels with low ratings, but some analysts saw the move as politically motivated.
In a memo to staff, Current TV's chief executive, Joel Hyatt - who founded the network with Mr Gore - said only that Time Warner ''did not consent to the sale'' to al-Jazeera. ''This is unfortunate, but I am confident al-Jazeera America will earn significant additional carriage in the months and years ahead,'' he said.
Mr Hyatt and Mr Gore said in a statement: ''Current Media was built based on a few key goals: to give voice to those who are not typically heard; to speak truth to power; to provide independent and diverse points of view; and to tell the stories that no one else is telling. Al-Jazeera, like Current, believes that facts and truth lead to a better understanding of the world around us.''
Mr Gore and Mr Hyatt had been seeking a buyer for Current TV for some months, amid dismal ratings that averaged 22,000 households last year, despite having 59 million paying subscribers, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Guardian News & Media