News Column

Al Jazeera Ready to Go Live in U.S.

August 19, 2013

JT Nguyen dpa

al jazeera

Al Jazeera will for the first time hit the airwaves across the United States on Tuesday, trying to crack a field dominated by well-established television networks and an American distrust of the Qatar-based Arabic news broadcasting channel.

But what Al Jazeera America, as it is called, has and CNN, Fox News or MSNBC do not have, is the rich coffers of Qatar's seemingly boundless oil and gas resources.

That means Al Jazeera America does not need frequent advertisements like the ones that provide US network and cable channels with their bread and butter - and that frequently interrupt programming.

With a staff of about 1,000 at its headquarters in New York, Al Jazeera plans a daily 14-hour straight news broadcast with hard-hitting stories, many of them from the Middle East, where Al Jazeera has made its name with ready sources and a ready audience.

But the news organization, which already operates international channels in English and Arabic, also plans to offer in-depth coverage of the United States.

Most Americans are unfamiliar with Al Jazeera, and those who are still remember the raw nerve it hit in the emotional days after the terrorist attacks on New York, Washington and Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001 by airing statements from al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden threatening the United States.

Al Jazeera was harshly criticized by former president George W Bush and his administration, which launched the global fight against terrorism.

Al Jazeera America claims it can fill the gaps in coverage of the US, particularly for young TV watchers, with documentaries on subjects often ignored by the mainstream news channels. It already has hired well-known TV personalities and anchors who worked for US rivals.

News reports said John Seigenthaler, a former NBC anchor, will host its 8 pm newscast. Two well-known CNN correspondents, Soledad O'Brien and business journalist Ali Velshi, have also joined the network. Ehab Al Shihabi, acting chief of Al Jazeera America, told the New York Times that the network would provide factual and in-depth news.

"Viewers will see a news channel unlike the others. As our programming proves, Al Jazeera America will air fact-based, unbiased and in-depth news," he said. "There will be less opinion, less yelling and fewer celebrity sightings."

The pan-Arab news giant controlled by the Qatari royal family also believes there is healthy demand for a non-US-centric view of the world, citing the fact that over 40 per cent of Al Jazeera English's online viewing comes from the United States.

Al Jazeera's international service has been available in 4.7 million US homes, but Al Jazeera America's reach will start in 48 million of the country's 100 million homes that pay for television service.

Success is far from guaranteed. Even BBC America, which has one of the most respected brands in world broadcasting, is now available in only an estimated 25 million US homes.

Al Jazeera America acquired Current TV in January from former vice president Al Gore for 500 million dollars and will take over the channel.

The Nielsen organization, which monitors US TV network audiences, said Current TV had about 24,000 prime time viewers last week. It said Fox News had 1.3 million viewers.

The New York Post, like Fox News, is owned by Rupert Murdoch, a rival of Al Jazeera. The Post carried stories unfavourable to Al Jazeera on the eve of the launch, mostly with comments from Madison Avenue's big advertising firms without identifying them.

"I wouldn't give them a dime, especially since we are in New York," the Post quoted one advertiser as saying.

"They're owned by an Arab country and they ran the [Osama] bin Laden tapes. I just wouldn't trust them," he said, referring to Al Jazeera's role in gaining access to the late al-Qaeda leader. "Not touching that one."

But it quoted an Al Jazeera spokesman as saying: "[Advertisers] have been especially interested in our decision to limit the number of commercial minutes each hour and how our commitment to fact-based, unbiased and in-depth reporting appeals to the same audience they are trying to reach."

Source: Copyright 2013 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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