"New Al-Jazeera International Channel Sparks Conflict," by Hannah Alam (in Doha, Qatar) - Knight Ridder, 1 March 2006
...Al-Jazeera International, a 24-hour news channel for English speakers, is expected to debut by the end of May. But how much of Al-Jazeera's controversial journalism will spill over to its sister station?
"We are here to build on the heritage of Al-Jazeera and bring their brand of fearless journalism to a much wider audience," said Nigel Parsons, the British managing director of Al-Jazeera International. "We are not completely divorced from one another."
Even before its first broadcast, however, the new channel has been the subject of vicious rumors and scathing criticism from Arab employees who fear that Al-Jazeera's in-your-face journalism will be watered down for Western audiences. They worry that Al-Jazeera International, or AJI as it's known here, will undo a decade-long struggle to build a brand with a distinctly Arab identity.
Banned by their employer from speaking on the record about their concerns, the journalists privately aired their most pressing questions: Why aren't there more Arab managers? How much does the new British-led team know about the region? Will they use "insurgents" or "terrorists" (considered a loaded word) to describe Iraqi fighters? And, most important, if AJI's mission is to become a global news alternative, what will distinguish it from, say, CNN or the BBC?
"The feeling is that they've built this brand with their blood and sweat and tears for 10 years, and now someone's going to come along and destroy it, jeopardize it, water it down," said a journalist from the Arabic-language channel who spoke on condition of anonymity. "There's just a lot of anxiety and resentment."
Parsons said Al-Jazeera International isn't going to be simply a translation of the Arabic version - it will have original programming and separate staff and broadcast centers around the world. However, he added, producers from both channels will share video and planning meetings. To quell fears, managers have arranged dinners and movie nights for the Arab staff and their new colleagues to get to know one another. Amid anger over the higher salaries paid on the international side, Parsons said a committee also is looking into benefits and salary.
"We are not here to bring down the Al-Jazeera brand," Parsons said. "We are here to build it up."...
Parsons said there would be Arab reporters in Cairo, Egypt; Beirut, Lebanon; Doha; Baghdad, Iraq, and in the Palestinian territories, but he's been quoted as saying that this won't be the "Islamic Channel." A lot of the programming will still come from headquarters in Doha, with the rest divided among broadcast centers in Washington, London and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Americans frustrated with mainstream media aren't the only target viewers for AJI. The channel is also wooing Arab immigrants in Europe, English speakers in the developing world and the millions of Asian and African Muslims who don't speak Arabic.
That's where people like Fatma Naib come in. The 28-year-old programming worker for Al-Jazeera International was born to Eritrean parents, lived in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, became a Swedish citizen and recently moved to Doha from London. She's smart, multilingual and pairs her brightly colored headscarves with cropped jeans. She was recently giddy over an interview with former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, the first female head of state in a Muslim nation.
"As a veiled woman, I think my opportunities with any other network, even Arab networks, would have been limited," Naib said in a flawless British accent.
Arabic-speaking employees like Naib act as a bridge between the suspicious veteran Al-Jazeera workers and their new colleagues - and she wants to use that role to connect with AJI's new global audience. She said the debt owed to the original channel would become evident when the station debuts this spring.
"This is our mother," she said. "We're like the sister or the son."
Added 14 March 2006:
"Al Jazeera Aims to Go Global - In English," by James Brandon - the Christian Science Monitor, 14 March 2006
Five years after Al Jazeera shot to public attention during the US invasion of Afghanistan, the Arab broadcaster is preparing to make more waves this spring when it launches a new channel - this time in English.
"A lot of people ask me if we're aiming at English-speaking Muslims," says Steve Clark, the new channel's director of news. "But we actually want to appeal to the whole English-speaking world and those who speak English as a second language."
The new channel, called Al Jazeera International, will begin broadcasting in late spring, offering a mix of hourly news bulletins and longer reports, bankrolled, like the original station, by the emir of the Persian Gulf state of Qatar.
The channel's mainly Western journalists promise to challenge existing stations such as CNN or BBC World.
"I'd like to put more emphasis on the developing world," says Mr. Clark. "For instance I'd like to show that there's more to Africa than war and famine."
But while Al Jazeera promises more news from places like Africa and South America than existing channels, reporting from the Middle East will comprise the core of its coverage from its headquarters in Qatar's capital, Doha.
However the appeal of Al Jazeera International will probably be less about the stories it covers and more about how it reports them.
Some hope the channel will provide global news from the perspective of the "Global South," while others fear that the channel's Arab Muslim backer, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifah al-Thani, the ruler of Qatar, may use it to stir up anti-Western sentiment or even to overtly proselytize.
The fact that Sheikh al-Thani is widely seen as a modest reformer within the Middle East doesn't allay concerns among some in the West.
Organizations like the United American Committee, a self-described "movement to promote citizen involvement in national security issues, and to awake Washington on the issue of Islamic extremism," are organizing demonstrations against the new channel's Washington bureau.
"The reputation can be a double-edged sword in some parts of the world," admits Clark. "Many politicians have criticized Al Jazeera without understanding it."
But while Al Jazeera's prominent critics, like US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, have accused the Arabic channel of being little more than a mouthpiece for Al Qaeda, the channel's non-Western outlook guarantees it instant popularity in many parts of the world.
In Pakistan, for instance, media analysts say Al Jazeera's reputation will assure it a wide audience.
"Al Jazeera [Arabic] already has credibility, even if it's not in a language that's understood in Pakistan," says Agha Nasir, an executive director of Geo TV, an Urdu-language private broadcaster in Pakistan. "I'm quite sure it will be watched."
And just as the original channel has been heralded by some as a force for democracy and reform in the Middle East, Mr. Nasir says that competition from Al Jazeera may accelerate innovation among Pakistani broadcasters.
"We try to be the first with breaking news," Nasir says. "But Al Jazeera will affect us because it's coming from an Islamic country, not like BBC or CNN."...