A general view shows the headquarters of the Qatar-based Al Jazeera satellite channel which holds the English-language newsroom in Doha November 14, 2006. Arabic television station Al Jazeera launches an English-speaking channel on Wednesday to report world news from a Middle East perspective and challenge the dominance of Western media. REUTERS/Mohammed Dubbous (QATAR)
In English, Al-Jazeera broadcasts Third World suffering in high-definition color
By JIM KRANE
November 15, 2006
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- Ten years after its broadcasts first jolted Arab and American leaders, Al-Jazeera's long-awaited English channel lit up the airwaves Wednesday, and quickly showed it was different to Western rivals such as CNN.
The new channel's programs focused on the Third World, screening grim images of Palestinian suffering and an upbeat take on an Islamic militia in Somalia -- all in high-definition TV.
But some of Al-Jazeera English's biggest potential audiences -- including Arab Americans -- were not among the 80 million homes that could receive the 24-hour broadcasts from the channel's headquarters in Doha, Qatar.
None of the seven major U.S. cable and satellite TV operators carried the slick 3 p.m. (8 a.m. EST) inaugural broadcast.
"It's November 15th, a new era in television news," anchor Sami Zeidan said, speaking in front of a flashy newsroom backdrop.
In one of the first reports, the correspondent spoke of "the agony of Gaza" as the pictures showed Palestinians scavenging for food in the rubble of homes destroyed by Israeli bombardment. Malnourished children lay in hospital beds and an Israeli helicopter gunship fired rounds overhead.
The news bulletin gave less time to Wednesday's report from Israel, where a rocket attack by Palestinian militants had killed an Israeli woman.
Al-Jazeera English appeared eager to show its global reach, shuffling live broadcasts from correspondents in Sudan's Darfur, Iran, Zimbabwe and Brazil, and breaking in with a report of a tsunami striking Japan.
Many correspondents will look familiar to news junkies. Al-Jazeera's reporter in Brazil turned out to be former CNN Havana correspondent Lucia Newman. Another CNN notable, former Johannesburg bureau chief Mike Hanna, turned up in the Doha studio.
The network hired more than 500 staffers, poaching journalists from American and British networks, including former CNN anchor Riz Khan, the British Broadcasting Corp.'s David Frost and former ABC correspondent Dave Marash.
Al-Jazeera, which is bankrolled by Qatar's royal family, hopes to steal viewers from CNN and the BBC by giving the world's 1 billion English speakers news from a non-Western perspective.
In London, BBC Global News Director Richard Sambrook said Al-Jazeera may take away some of his network's viewers, but the new channel's reach stands far below BBC World's 270 million homes.
"They've made a very confident start, which isn't surprising since they have a large budget and had a long time to prepare," Sambrook said.
But Al-Jazeera's Third World focus could backfire, Sambrook said.
"They clearly want to differentiate themselves from the BBC and CNN by representing developing countries," he said. "It will take some time to see whether they can do that and still keep broad appeal. That may limit their audience."
In its report from Mogadishu, Somalia -- not exactly a regular feature of Western news bulletins -- Al-Jazeera English said the notoriously lawless city was now the safest it has been for a decade, thanks to the Islamic Courts militia -- a group accused of terrorist ties.
Al-Jazeera's feisty Arabic news channel has built a reputation for vexing Western leaders, smashing taboos in the Arab world, and broadcasting the views of political opponents who would never be aired by regular Arabic TV channels. At one time or another, no fewer than 18 Arab governments have banned Al-Jazeera journalists from operating in their countries.
U.S. President George W. Bush's administration has criticized Al-Jazeera's coverage of the bloodshed in Iraq and said its broadcasting of messages from Osama bin Laden amounts to incitement to terrorism.
Al-Jazeera says the bin Laden messages and Iraqi images are newsworthy. It has urged U.S. officials to regard the channel as the ideal venue for addressing the Muslim world.
Al-Jazeera English has broadcast centers in Doha, London, Washington and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, making it widely available in Europe and the Middle East, including Israel.
U.S. carriers have adopted a "show-me" policy, waiting to see what sort of reaction the station generates before carrying it, said Al-Jazeera spokesman Michael Holtzman.
Al-Jazeera English will be available to American customers of GlobeCast, the subsidiary of a French company that offers satellite TV service and three smaller providers.
© 2006. The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.
Al-Jazeera English hits the airwaves; Arabic TV broadcaster's new network is launched, but won't be on Canadian cable
The Globe and Mail (Canada)
November 15, 2006
Spanning the globe with high-definition broadcast centres in Washington, London, Kuala Lumpur and Doha, Qatar, al-Jazeera English is finally set to launch today, taking CNN and the BBC head-on. It's the new English-language offspring of the Arabic news network, which has itself been prominently in the news, with American groups such as the Accuracy in the Media calling it “terror television” while, according to al-Jazeera, it has been referred to by some Arab critics as part of an “American conspiracy” to tear “apart the Arab ranks.”
Yet with today's intense media interest in al-Jazeera English and the unflagging fortunes of the emir of Qatar reportedly pumping tens of millions of dollars into the operation, it's all a world away for most Canadians, since major Canadian cable companies are not expected to pick up the network any time soon.
Even in other countries around the world with much larger Muslim populations, such as Indonesia and Malaysia, many have been wondering when or if al-Jazeera English would ever air.
The network has suffered a string of delays, pushing the launch from last spring to some time earlier this fall and now, finally, today. Outfitting the new studios and linking them with state-of-the-art electronics has taken longer than expected. Yet while the network was originally expected to reach 30 million to 40 million households worldwide, al-Jazeera English is now estimating 70 million to 80 million households will have access to the network.
Speculation has been rife, however, that the 10-year-old parent network has reined in the editorial independence of its international offshoot. Rumours were particularly rampant in August when the former editor of BBC Breakfast, Paul Gibbs, was fired as director of programming. And while spokespeople stressed that the new network is independent, al-Jazeera's director-general, Wadah Khanfar, has described as a similar news “spirit” between the English and Arabic networks.
Then there have been the legion of new hires. Former BBC host David Frost has been al-Jazeera English's biggest catch. His first interview is rumoured to be with Tony Blair, although an al-Jazeera spokeswoman yesterday couldn't confirm that. Then there's the staff of 500 or so, including Canadians such as ABC News London correspondent Richard Gizbert, former CBC sportscaster Brendan Connor and the former Washington reporter for Global TV, Kimberly Halkett.
So why won't this be carried by Canadian cable providers?
“As a Canadian, this is one of my biggest disappointments that on launch day, people who I know are hungry for this product are not going to be able to see it. But that, I know, is going to change,” Halkett said from the Washington bureau.
Al-Jazeera English will be available as downloadable clips and streaming live video from the network will be available on its Internet site. And many Arab Canadians currently access Arabic al-Jazeera by satellite. Presumably these satellites might also carry al-Jazeera English.
Yet no cable television companies in Canada have applied to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to carry the network. And no major carriers are rushing to get the paperwork ready. It stems back to a 2004 CRTC ruling allowing the Arabic al-Jazeera network to be broadcast in Canada, but which imposed such tight restrictions that cable companies have been unwilling to pick it up.
The CRTC held cable carriers responsible for blocking “any abusive comment.” As a CRTC spokeswoman explained, the criteria for what is abusive are largely determined by what viewers might later complain about to regulators.
And in order to carry al-Jazeera English, Canadian cable companies now have to go through the entire application process again for the new network. Rogers, Shaw and Vidéotron have given no indication that they are proceeding with an application. And a Vidéotron spokeswoman said that her company has not received a request from the network to make an application.
© All material copyright Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc. or its licensors. All rights reserved.
And now, for the ...in English from COVER STORY
The Canberra Times
November 16, 2006
YESTERDAY Arabic television network al-Jazeera launched one of the most ambitious TV ventures of recent times: an English-language channel, to bring rolling news, from a Middle Eastern perspective, to a global audience of millions.
The new channel, al-Jazeera International, already boasts star quality. A host of big names, from Sir David Frost to former BBC and ITV stalwarts Rageh Omaar and Darren Jordon, have been poached from rival British broadcasters.
Tony Blair, no less, is expected to provide the station's first major ''scoop'', having agreed to an exclusive interview on Friday's debut edition of Sir David's new weekly show, Frost Over The World.
In the United States, meanwhile, AJI has signalled its intention to do battle with the mighty CNN, after poaching its sought-after Atlanta-based anchorman Riz Khan to front a daily news program from Washington.
The channel certainly has money to back up its ambitious aims. Bankrolled by the Emir of Qatar to the tune of tens of millions of dollars, it launches with a total of 18 bureaux around the world, and 500 staff.
Four studios - in London, Doha, Kuala Lumpur and Washington DC - will allow AJI to ''follow the sun'', broadcasting around the world via satellite television and the internet, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
''This will be the last great adventure in TV news,'' the station's Europe correspondent, Alan Fisher, said. ''It sounds like a terrible cliche, but the world is getting smaller, and there's a huge untapped market out there that isn't served by a rolling news station. I'd put that potential audience in tens, if not hundreds of millions.'' It's a bold claim. But al-Jazeera has made a habit of living up to the hype that has surrounded it since the original Arabic station hit the airwaves just 10 years ago.
That channel was launched on the back of a $US150million ($A195million) grant from the Emir of Qatar in 1996, after the BBC scrapped its World Service Arabic language station, in response to censorship demands from the Government of Saudi Arabia.
The Emir, a comparative liberal by the standards of Middle Eastern leaders, was anxious to make sure that a politically independent TV station could continue to broadcast in the region, and instructed its staff to ''report the news as they see it''. He named al-Jazeera after the Arabic term for ''the peninsula'' or ''island'' and saw it grow to international prominence, and in some cases notoriety, following the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US in 2001.
Critics soon came out of the woodwork, however. They branded it ''bin Laden's favourite channel'' after al-Qaeda leaders began to use it to bring their occasional broadcasts some involving captured Western hostages to a world-wide audience.
In addition, it was accused in some quarters of feeding its 50 million regular viewers with a regular diet of anti-American propaganda. As a result, al-Jazeera has occasionally been targeted during the war against terrorism.
Last year, it emerged that British Prime Minister Tony Blair had been forced to talk US President George W. Bush out of bombing the firm's Doha headquarters, during a meeting between the two leaders in April 2004. It is, therefore, hardly surprising that the launch of an English language channel will further rile those who have accused the station of being a mouthpiece for terrorists, and claimed (quite wrongly) that it has broadcast beheadings.
Those involved say, however, that AJI will continue to follow the news agenda of its parent station. They deny accusations of bias; instead, the station offers a counterbalance to the Western tyranny of other international broadcasters.
''We will take a global view, rather than looking at things from a purely Western perspective,'' Fisher said. ''Our choice of stories is also different. We will be looking much more at how world events affect ordinary people. ''An example is how al-Jazeera covered the American assault on Falujah. Other networks were going through official US spokesmen, but our sister station was more interested in showing what the attacks were really doing to people on the ground. ''We aim to look at how real people are affected. I really don't want to attack the BBC or CNN, but they are aimed squarely at businessmen sitting in hotel rooms. We've got a different agenda, to reach the audience you'll find on the street.'' The target audience of AJI is the millions of inhabitants Muslim or otherwise of regions such as South-East Asia, many of whom speak English as a second language. It's a potential audience of one billion, who have different priorities to traditional television news consumers.
Sir David Frost's show will, therefore, involve round-table discussions between studio guests sitting in the channel's ''hubs'' around the world. Editor Charlie Courtauld said, ''It's an independent production and we have full editorial control. ''That is very important, because it is undeniable that some people have strong views about al-Jazeera which are generally based on second-hand info, because they don't speak Arabic. It will allay their concerns if people understand that we are making an independent program, and that will help us get voices that are normally unheard on TV news outlets. ''We are focusing on world leaders from Africa, South America, and South-East Asia. The usual fare has become very jaundiced.'' The big question, of course, is whether it will work. Although events of recent years have seen al-Jazeera become one of the world's most influential TV networks, it generates little in the way of advertising revenue, and is still heavily subsidised by the Emir of Qatar. The station's launch has also run far from smoothly.
Al-Jazeera International was originally due to go on air a year ago. That was revised first to spring, then to September, and then to November. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, ugly rumours have circulated concerning clashes over the editorial direction between its liberal new staff in London, and executives in Qatar who wished to preserve the station's original brand of Arabic values. And as recently as last week, the Independent on Sunday quoted employees at its Knightsbridge bureau describing ''real tension between Arabic program makers and the new international team''. Yesterday, a final spanner in the works. Reports claimed that British staff working on al-Jazeera International's launch in Doha had been ordered to undergo ''cultural awareness training'' telling them how to behave in a Muslim country, after upsetting locals by going on ''drinking binges''. Like so much about al-Jazeera, it exposed the gaping cultural divide between East and West. The big question now is whether a new English language Arabic station will widen, or narrow, that gulf. The Independent
© 2006 The Canberra Times
Staff work at the English-language newsroom at the headquarters of the Qatar-based Al Jazeera satellite channel in Doha November, 14, 2006. Arabic television station Al Jazeera launches an English-speaking channel on Wednesday to report world news from a Middle East perspective and challenge the dominance of Western media. REUTERS/Mohammed Dubbous (QATAR)
Al Jazeera International Managing Director Nigel Parsons talks
to reporters during a news conference in Doha November, 14, 2006.
Arabic television station Al Jazeera launches an English-speaking channel
on Wednesday to report world news from a Middle East perspective and
challenge the dominance of Western media. REUTERS/Mohammed Dubbous (QATAR)