Nobody should imagine Al Jazeera is about to become a counterweight to Rupert Murdoch's vehemently right-wing Fox News, but the Pan-Arab broadcaster's burgeoning presence in the US is a salutary development nonetheless.
The news channel, which is owned by the Qatari royal family, can be watched in 260 million homes in 130 countries but its availability in the US has been limited, thanks largely to the hostility of the US establishment. But Al Jazeera has just bought Current TV, the ailing channel founded by the former Vice-President Al Gore, which will boost its reach ninefold to about 40 million US homes.
Current was founded as a pioneering attempt to promote user-generated television but it ended up as a liberal-left political talk station whose values are very much in sync with Al Jazeera. They share, in Gore's words, a mission "to give voice to those who are not typically heard… to speak truth to power… and to tell the stories that no one else is telling".
It will be an uphill struggle. Within hours of the deal being announced America's second-largest TV operator, Time Warner Cable, dropped Current TV from its list of channels, presumably because many Americans insist that Al Jazeera is a pro-Islamist "terrorist network" in cahoots with al-Qa'ida.
It is precisely because of such attitudes that the prospect of Al Jazeera's alternative voice being heard beyond the metropolitan East Coast is to be welcomed. Not all of the channel's stances may be agreeable but it has won respect in its short lifetime (it was founded in 1996), winning two major US journalism awards in 2012.
Some 40 per cent of viewing traffic on Al Jazeera English's website comes from the US. That percentage will doubtless increase as it doubles the number of its US news bureaux. The increased range of independent and diverse points of view that Al Jazeera represents can only be good for a country that prides itself on being the land of the free.Reuse content