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from Jack Shafer:

What’s more rare — a unicorn or an Al Jazeera America viewer?

 A man works at a desk in the Al Jazeera America broadcast center in New York,

Al Jazeera America draws such a teensy audience -- 15,000 on average during prime time, according to Nielsen -- that if you dropped all of the fledgling cable news channel's viewers into a modern NBA arena you'd leave a couple of thousand vacant seats. To place Al Jazeera America's audience in perspective, it's less than half of that once attracted by Al Gore's Current TV, the channel it replaced last August. Ratings leader Fox News Channel pulls in an evening average of about 1.6 million.

Such miserable ratings would be understandable if Al Jazeera America produced its shows on a shoestring, as did Current TV, or if it marginalized itself by broadcasting bonkers propaganda like RT (formerly Russia Today), or if most cable households couldn't receive it.

But none of those excuses apply. Al Jazeera America's executives have claimed that the company was spending "hundreds of millions" to establish 12 U.S. bureaus, not to mention the $500 million it gave Current TV's owners to go away. Unlike the bombastic RT, Al Jazeera America has to date avoided peddling any country's political line, even though it’s owned by the wealthy Kingdom of Qatar, a hereditary monarchy. (If prizes are a measure of journalistic worth, Al Jazeera has already established its legitimacy by winning two Peabody Awards.) And while not available everywhere, Al Jazeera America can be viewed in about 55 million of the country's 100 million pay-TV households.

America hasn't exactly snubbed Al Jazeera America. The rebuke has been more akin to a shrug. Go ahead and spend your millions, the nation seems to be saying to the channel. Hire all the network retreads you want, people like John Seigenthaler, David Shuster, Antonio Mora, Ray Suarez and Joie Chen, so that if by a long shot viewers stumble upon your channel, they'll recognize some familiar faces. The country will still shrug.

from John Lloyd:

Corruption predates the World Cup, but it doesn’t have to live past it

An aerial shot shows the Arena Fonte Nova  stadium, one of the stadiums hosting the 2014 World Cup soccer matches, in Salvador

Crooked sports didn’t begin with FIFA or the World Cup. The truth is, the fix has been in since the beginning of time.

The first recorded example was Eupolos of Thessalia, who bribed three of his competitors in a boxing bout to take a dive during the Olympic Games of 388 BC. It must have been a big bribe, since one of those fudging the match was the formidable Phormion of Halikarnassos, the reigning champion.

from Breakingviews:

Three ways for FIFA to score on governance

By Robert Cole

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Allegations of corruption have caught FIFA offside. Questions about the way Qatar won rights to the 2022 World Cup surfaced less than two weeks before the start of this year’s quadrennial tournament. There could scarcely be a worse time for embarrassment.

from The Great Debate:

The religion-fueled fight in Syria

The second round of peace talks in Geneva between representatives of Bashar Al-Assad’s regime in Syria and rebel forces has ended with both sides blaming each other for the lack of progress. Beyond the finger-pointing, however, lies a growing danger to the goal of a negotiated settlement. The civil war’s religious divides are widening, making compromise unthinkable.

Representatives of the Syrian regime went to Geneva solely with the hope of convincing the opposition to let President Bashar al-Assad stay in power so he can forge an alliance against jihadist forces fighting in Syria, most notably the al Qaeda affiliates Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. Their argument -- one that many, including former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, have made -- was that Assad is better than any likely alternative.

from David Rohde:

Dooming the Syria talks before they begin

The United States won a short-term diplomatic victory over Iran this week. Under intense pressure from American officials, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon withdrew an invitation for Iranian officials to attend the Syria peace conference.

Disinviting Tehran is the latest example of the Obama administration’s continual search for easy, risk-free solutions in Syria. As the conflict destabilizes the region, however, Washington must finally face the hard choice: Either compromise with Iran, or decisively support and arm the rebels.

from Breakingviews:

Sovereign fund chiefs not created equal

By Una Galani

(The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.)

China Investment Corporation finally has a new boss. But compared to most companies, a change of the top at a sovereign wealth fund doesn’t always mean a change of tack. A sovereign fund’s proximity to the government and its investment approach are critical when it comes to determining the importance, or relative unimportance, of who sits at the top.

from The Great Debate:

Behind the abdication of Qatar’s emir

Qatar's emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, speaks at a summit in Rome, Nov. 16, 2009. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianch

Nothing was trivial about the moment: Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani gave up his post as emir of Qatar to his son at the pinnacle of his influence, in an act as rare and surprising as his ascending to power through a bloodless coup against his own father in 1995.

from David Rohde:

Changing Assad’s calculus

A deserted street with building destroyed by what activists said was shelling by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad , near Aleppo International airport, May 20, 2013. REUTERS/Nour Kelze

AMMAN, Jordan – Secretary of State John Kerry and 10 European and Arab foreign ministers gathered here Wednesday night to again talk about helping Syria’s rebels.

from Global Investing:

Paid for the risk? Egypt’s tempting pound

Surprising as it may seem, the Egyptian pound has got some fans.  The currency has languished for months at record lows against the dollar and the headlines are alarming -- the lack of an IMF aid programme, meagre hard currency reserves, political upheaval. So what's to like ?

Analysts at Societe Generale say that just looking at the spot exchange rate of the pound is missing the bigger picture. Instead, they advise buying 12-month non-deliverable forwards on the pound -- essentially a way of locking into a fixed rate for pound against the dollar in a year's time depending on where you think it may actually trade. They write:

from Breakingviews:

Qatar gives SocGen an honourable exit from Egypt

By Una Galani

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.

Qatar has given Societe Generale an honorable exit from Egypt. State-backed Qatar National Bank will buy the French bank’s 77 percent stake in its Egyptian unit, National Societe Generale Bank (NSGB), through a mandatory tender offer valuing the whole at $2.6 billion. The valuation of 2 times book value is lower than pre-revolution multiples, and SocGen will have to carry some currency risk. But with few-sizeable buyers willing to live with Arab spring volatility, it makes sense for SocGen to shrink while it can.

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