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Al-Jazeera acquires Al Gore's Current TV

LOS ANGELES -- Al-Jazeera, the pan-Arab news channel that had struggled to win space on American cable television, has acquired Current TV, boosting its reach in the United States nearly ninefold to about 40 million homes. With a focus on U.S. news, it plans to rebrand the left-leaning news network that its co-founder, former Vice President Al Gore, couldn't make relevant.

Gore confirmed the sale yesterday, saying Al-Jazeera shares Current TV's mission "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."

The acquisition lifts Al-Jazeera's reach beyond a few large U.S. metropolitan areas including New York and Washington, where about 4.7 million homes can watch Al-Jazeera English now.

Al-Jazeera, owned by the government of Qatar, plans to transform Current into Al-Jazeera America, adding five to 10 U.S. bureaus to the five it has now and hiring more journalists. More than half of the content will be U.S. news and network headquarters will be in New York, spokesman Stan Collender said.

Collender said there are no rules against foreign ownership of a cable channel -- unlike the strict rules limiting foreign ownership of free-to-air TV stations. He said the move is based on demand, adding that 40 percent of viewing traffic on Al-Jazeera English's website is from the United States.

The deal suffered an immediate casualty as Time Warner Cable Inc., the nation's second-largest cable TV operator, announced it is dropping Current TV because of the deal.

"Our agreement with Current has been terminated and we will no longer be carrying the service. We are removing the service as quickly as possible," a company statement said.

Current TV was in 60 million homes. It is carried by Comcast Corp., which owned less than a 10 percent stake in Current TV, as well as DirecTV. Neither company announced plans to drop the channel.

In 2010, Al-Jazeera English's managing director, Tony Burman, blamed a "very aggressive hostility" from the Bush administration for reluctance among cable and satellite companies to show the network.

Even so, Al-Jazeera has garnered respect for its ability to build a serious news product in a short time. It touted numerous U.S. journalism awards it received in 2012.

But there may be a culture clash at the network. Dave Marash, a former "Nightline" reporter who worked for Al-Jazeera in Washington, said he left the network in 2008 in part because he sensed an anti-American bias there.

Current's leading personalities are former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm and Cenk Uygur, a former MSNBC commentator who hosts a show called "The Young Turks."

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