Under Fire, Al Jazeera America Faces Tall PR Order

Source: Al Jazeera

Not since News Corp. has there been a media company under scrutiny like Al Jazeera is now.

To gain presence in the United States, the growing network that is bankrolled by the emir of Qatar just purchased Al Gore's cable channel Current TV for $500 million.

Al Jazeera cemented a negative reputation among many U.S. citizens during the height of the war on terror, when it aired videos made by Osama Bin Laden and was strongly denounced by the Bush administration.

Now, as CNN's Howard Kurtz points out, Al Jazeera English, a spinoff channel launched in 2006 has a different image. Hilary Clinton praised it as "real news," and the network has won several awards for its reporting.

Since the announced sale, conservative commentators have declared open season on the network. Bill O'Reilly called the network "anti-American." Fox pundit Dick Morris said Gore sold to a fount of "anti-Israel propaganda." The sale has prompted concern in the Jewish community, including a blog post by Ronn Torossian, CEO of New York-based 5W Public Relations, who wrote: "This won’t bode well for Israeli public relations – one wonders if Al Jazeera will accept ads from those representing pro-Israel viewpoints, or even Jewish charities like the JNF or Kars 4 Kids."

And that's not all. Time Warner Cable is refusing to carry the channel and Current TV staffers bashed notoriously green Al Gore for "selling out" to a network bankrolled by oil profits. All is not good on the reputation front for a network hoping to improve upon the paltry 22,000 viewers of Current TV.

So, what's Al Jazeera America (its working title) to do? Start with a strong communications campaign that emphasizes transparency, cultural understanding and reporting excellence. A snappy tagline wouldn't hurt either, but "Fair and Balanced" is already taken.

In his column, CNN's Kurtz pointed out one important truth: Interest in international news among the U.S. public has waned over the years, and that's Al Jazeera's sweet spot. If the network can't get Americans interested in its global product, chances are it will fade to black.

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About Scott Van Camp

Scott Van Camp is editor of PR News, an executive-level, reader-supported publication that helps enhance the business impact of PR. Scott has a rich background in both journalism and PR/marketing. He has more than 15 years of experience as a writer/editor at various consumer and trade publications. Scott was with VNU Business Publications for five years, including stints as managing editor at IQ News and Technology Marketing magazines and senior editor at Brandweek. In the PR/marketing sphere, he has served as corporate communications manager at MarketBridge, a marketing and sales consultancy, and as editorial director for the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Council. While at the Council, Scott led several high-profile marketing research projects. He has also operated his own communications and media consulting firm, SVC Communications.

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  • Mel Snyder

    I find it almost humorous that sanctimonious cable execs who unashamedly carry “news” networks reporting from a parallel universe in which the President is a Kenyan and the solution to Newtown is more guns should resist giving Al Jazerra a platform from which they’re unlikely to gain more than the 50,000 people who fall asleep each evening watching Current TV.