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Home >> World
UPDATED: 13:08, July 06, 2005
Al-Jazeera plans to set alternative agenda
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Al-Jazeera is nothing if not bold. It has fought repeatedly with Washington, which says its exclusive broadcasts of Osama bin Laden speeches show an anti-American, pro-terrorist bias.

Its freewheeling broadcasts have decimated state-run TV stations across much of the Arab world, leading some countries to close its bureaus down. So what does such a network do next? Plan a massive expansion.

By March, the network will launch Al-Jazeera International, a satellite channel that will beam English-language news to the United States and much of the rest of the world from its base in tiny Qatar.

The ever-contentious Middle East will be its speciality. And the news, including coverage of Israel, will be served up from an Arab perspective, Al-Jazeera executives say.

With a touch of the evangelist, perhaps, the station's executives say their mission is nothing less than reversing the dominant flow of global information, which now originates on TV channels in the West.

"We're the first news channel based in the Mideast to bring news back to the West," said Nigel Parsons, managing director of Al-Jazeera International. "We want to set a different news agenda."

The station's research shows some of the world's one billion English speakers, including Americans, thirst for news from a non-Western perspective.

Competing with CNN, BBC

Outside the United States, the station plans to compete with CNN International and BBC World, the two chief English-language satellite news channels. The new station will be headquartered in Doha and operate broadcast newsrooms in London, Washington and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

But breaking into the US market, with its established channels, might be more difficult. The station's anti-American reputation may win some early "curiosity" viewers, Parsons said.

Overall, Al-Jazeera executives contend negative American opinions are based on "irrational and erroneous information."

For instance, Parsons said, Defence Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld lambasted the station for showing beheadings by Iraqi insurgents. Actually, Al-Jazeera has aired portions of insurgent videos but never a beheading, he said.

Another irritant is Al-Jazeera's often-gory coverage of Iraq from both perspectives. Before it was banned, the network embedded reporters with both Iraqi insurgents and with US troops.

Nevertheless, Americans have shown curiosity.

Al-Jazeera's English-language website gets most of its traffic from US visitors, Parsons said.

In the end, Al-Jazeera might coax viewers from an elite segment of American TV watchers, perhaps those who tune into the BBC, some observers say.

If Al-Jazeera is a tough sell in the United States, it has natural audiences elsewhere. The world counts 1.2 billion Muslims, most of whom don't speak Arabic. That means Al-Jazeera stands to find quick popularity in countries like Pakistan, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Alterman believes Al-Jazeera will help integrate the world's far-flung Muslim communities, giving them a common news source.

That's not necessarily what the station is after. "We're not a Muslim channel," said Parsons, a Briton who, like many Al-Jazeera International staff, does not speak Arabic.

Indeed, the station is even less popular with governments in Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran and Tunisia, which currently ban it.

Those countries suggest it incites violence by giving airtime to opposition politicians and radical clerics.

At one time or another, Al-Jazeera has had bureaus closed in 18 countries and its signal blocked in 30. Its revenues still suffer under an advertising boycott, believed to originate from Saudi Government pressure.

The station has had three bureaus destroyed by bombings, two by the US military.

Source: China Daily

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