Fri, Nov 17, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Al-Jazeera's English-language channel debuts

MAJOR UNDERTAKING Al-Jazeera English hired more than 500 personnel, luring journalists from US and British news networks, to run the new Doha-based media outlet


Al-Jazeera's English-language channel has begun operating, promising a fresh perspective on international news, but virtually no US television viewers could see it.

Broadcasting from the station's headquarters in Doha, Qatar, al-Jazeera English led its 3pm newscast on its first day on Wednesday with a report from Kinshasa on the Congo elections, saying it was the only television network to land an interview with President Joseph Kabila.

The network is an offshoot of the 10-year-old Arabic-language al-Jazeera, which has angered leaders in the Middle East and in Washington.

It wore that reputation as a badge of honor on Wednesday, showing a film clip of outgoing US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld referring to an al-Jazeera report as "vicious, inaccurate and inexcusable."

Despite extra months for negotiating because a planned spring launch was scrapped, the network had only one small satellite system and two online services in the US offering it on Wednesday. The network was streamed for free on its Web site, but it could sometimes be difficult to reach and offered blurry pictures.

"Eighty million people around the world want to see al-Jazeera, but no one in America is capable of seeing it," said Will Stebbins, the network's Washington bureau chief. "If I were an American, I would be frustrated having cable systems decide for me."

Unlike other news networks, al-Jazeera English is striving to offer international news from multiple perspectives, free of any geographic or cultural reference points, he said.

Al-Jazeera English hired more than 500 staffers, luring journalists from US and British networks, including former CNN anchor Riz Khan and reporter Lucia Newman, the BBC's David Frost and former ABC News reporter Dave Marash.

With two anchors seated before a slowly shifting world map, the afternoon newscast offered stories at greater length than most US news networks. The report from Africa lasted five minutes, as did the following story, about missile attacks in Israel.

An anchor prefaced a question about how even one civilian death in Israel hurts the government by saying there have been disproportionately greater casualties among Palestinians.

The third story was about General John Abizaid, the top US commander in Iraq, testifying on Wednesday before Congress.

A sportscast led with soccer tournaments in Europe and had a feature about the Iraqi national soccer coach. There was a brief story on the Boston Red Sox bidding US$51.1 million to negotiate with Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka.

A weather report led with the forecast for the Arabian peninsula and Europe, before checking on conditions "over at the other side of the pond."

The station appeared eager to show its global reach, moving to live reports from correspondents in Sudan's Darfur region, Iran, Zimbabwe and Brazil and breaking in with a report on a tsunami warning in Japan. Stebbins said he believed al-Jazeera English would have an edge over competitors because it has more reporters in the southern hemisphere.

Al-Jazeera said its signal would reach 80 million households with cable and satellite TV, mainly in the Middle East and Europe. Its chief competitors are CNN and the BBC.

In London, BBC global news director Richard Sambrook said the new channel's reach stands far below BBC World's 270 million homes.

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