Al Jazeera America’s Syria coverage similar to that of U.S. rivals, Pew says

Joie Chen, anchor of Al Jazeera America's "America Tonight."
(AFP/Getty Images)

Al Jazeera America’s coverage of the conflict in Syria differed little from that of CNN, Fox News and MSNBC, according to the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan think tank that often monitors the media.

“The analysis of cable coverage during a crucial week in the Syria story found that in a number of areas -- where stories originated, the focus of stories, key messages in stories and the mix of reporting and opinion -- Al Jazeera America was largely in sync with its U.S. cable news competitors, most often CNN,” Pew said.

Being labeled as the same as its competitors might not seem like something to brag about. But Al Jazeera America Kate O’Brian praised the Pew study as proof that the new cable news network is an “American news channel that provides unbiased, fact-based reporting that doesn’t have a partisan or other point of view.”


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Besides having a similar tone, Pew said, Al Jazeera America also relied heavily on politicians and policymakers for commentary.

Al Jazeera America launched last month in about 45 million pay-TV homes. Several distributors are still not carrying the channel including Time Warner Cable, which is the biggest pay-TV distributor in New York City and Los Angeles, the nation’s top-two television markets.

While the distributors not carrying the channel cite contract negotiations, there is also a concern of a backlash from subscribers who feel the channel’s parent -- Qater media giant Al Jazeera -- is biased against America.

In its report, Pew noted that Al Jazeera America focused more of its coverage around humanitarian aspects of the crisis in Syria compared with its competitors.

“Seeing beyond the headlines and statements from politicians and having the largest global newsgathering capability of any U.S. news channel are what will most benefit our viewers, and the fact that Pew recognized this is very gratifying,” O’Brian said.


The Pew report, which focused on the week of Aug. 26-31, found that CNN spent 381 minutes on the Syria story, while Al Jazeera America had 273 minutes of coverage. Fox News had 220 minutes while MSNBC had only 194 minutes.

Al Jazeera America also had more feature stories, known in the industry as packages, on the topic than their competitors. Prior to the network’s launch, it touted that it would have more in-depth reporting versus conversation.


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Follow Joe Flint on Twitter @JBFlint.