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Al Gore has filed a lawsuit against Al Jazeera, accusing the Middle Eastern media group of both fraud and of breaching the contract that he made with it when the media group purchased the former vice president’s Current TV cable channel for $500 million. Reportedly, Al Jazeera still owes Al Gore and the shareholders of Current TV $65 million dollars and they are reluctant to pay up.
The money, “tens of millions of dollars” according to David Boies, an attorney representing Mr. Gore and a Current TV co-owner, Joel Hyatt, is being held in an escrow account, though it is still owed to Al Gore, Joel Hyatt and the other shareholders of Current TV. Bois said that Al Jazeera America apparently wants a “discount” on the original purchase price.
Mr. Boies continued, stating that he and his clients are wanting “the court to order Al Jazeera America to stop wrongfully withholding the escrow funds that belong to Current’s former shareholders.” Al Gore had been roundly criticized by many media sources for making a deal with Al Jazeera when the sale occurred almost two years ago.
The lawsuit was filed in the Delaware Court of Chancery in Wilmington by former Vice President Al Gore and Mr Hyatt. The court there has sealed the complaint, so not many further details are known. However, Al Gore and the other Current TV stockholders would like for the details to be made public. They have petitioned the court for permission to have further information about the case disclosed.
Al Jazeera America issued a statement through spokeswoman, Dawn Bridges. She said that the network “may have further comment” once its legal counsel has finished reviewing the complaint.
The deal that Al Gore, Mr. Hyatt and the other Current TV shareholders made gave them an estimated base of base of 40 million households in America. In return, Al Gore, according to reports, received a payout of $100 million. However, the media group has not experienced as much growth as it would have liked to see by now in its desire to become an established news outlet in the United States.
Al Jazeera America has seen some growth as a result of its being carried by several cable and satellite companies. The company hired almost 900 journalists across the United States in August 2013 and it is now available in approximately 60 million U.S. households.
Just because Al Jazeera America is “available” now in 60 million households does not mean that people are actually viewing it. According to Nielsen, from the start of 2014 through the end of May, the news network only managed to average about 17,000 viewers during prime time. By contrast, Fox News averaged 1.7 million viewers during prime time and CNN averaged 488,000 up through June.
Ms. Bridges stated that Al Jazeera has done much better in the period between July 7 – August 10, due in large part to its coverage of both the ongoing conflict in Gaza and the protest demonstrations in Feruson, Missouri. She said that during that period, the network had over 5.1 million viewers during prime time hours.
According to the CEO of Al Jazeera America, Ehad Al Shihabi, the next year will see further expansion in the distribution of the network, as well as in the advertising it does and the news stories it covers.
Ehad Al Shihabi wrote in a recent note to staff members that things should be looked at “in perspective.” He stated that Al Jazeera America was still young compared to other cable news networks and that they were “still growing our brand awareness as well as our distribution.”
Al Jazeera America reportedly is developing a 24-hour news channel to better compete against CNN and MSNBC. The news agency wants to be recognized as an alternative news source, one that is not polarized in its political viewpoint and which does not have sensationalized coverage of the news.
The lawsuit against Al Jazeera America for fraud and breach of contract, which was filed by former Vice President Al Gore, Mr, Joel Hyatt and the other shareholders of Current TV, is coming at a bad time for the fledgling company. Part of the $500 million that they had agreed to pay the shareholders, $65 million, had been put into an escrow account and it was supposed to have been paid this year.
Al Gore and the others involved in filing the lawsuit against Al Jazeera America are alleging that the failure of the news agency to relinquish the funds constitutes fraud and a breach of the original contract with the shareholders of Current TV. Current TV was created by Al Gore to be a contrast to the right wing political views of Fox News. Other than the statements made by Dawn Bridges, neither Al Jazeera America nor its parent company, Al Jazeera, have offered any comments regarding the lawsuit.
Written By Douglas Cobb