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Al Jazeera coming to America: Controversial network ready to hit U.S. TV markets
Al Jazeera Media Network, led and financed by the Al Thani dynasty that has ruled the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar for nearly two centuries, plans to launch the Al Jazeera America (AJA) cable channel Aug. 20 from an anchor desk in New York City.
While the media company claims that the U.S. is falling in love with its brand of news, nearly two dozen of its reporters in Egypt quit in protest this month, saying Al Jazeera’s leadership directed them to produce pro-Muslim Brotherhood stories.
Still, the media company says it has what the U.S. market is seeking.
“Al Jazeera’s decision to create a U.S.-based news channel was based in part on the fact that Americans have already shown a great demand for its news and programs,” a company statement reads.
The network plans to unleash reporters on U.S. domestic issues, perhaps in the same way that its Arabic channel covers the Muslim world. A third channel, Al Jazeera English, has been broadcasting international stories since 2006 and takes a particularly critical look at the United States.
“They have come a long way,” said Paul Janensch, journalism professor emeritus at Quinnipiac University. “They have been criticized in the past for being pro-Arab. My response to that is: Well, our networks are pro-America. Al Jazeera is not pro-regimes. They are not pro-governments. But they are sympathetic to the Arab culture and the so-called ‘street.’
“My impression was they were doing a pretty good job of giving you an accurate, reliable presentation of the news in the areas they were interested in,” said Mr. Janensch, a longtime newspaper reporter and editor.
Analysts will watch for whether Al Jazeera America becomes another voice for Islamic causes, given its ownership’s track record.
New kid on the dial
Former Qatari emir Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, who founded Al Jazeera, has provided millions of dollars to the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and openly promotes Hamas, a U.S.-designated terrorist group that controls the Gaza Strip. Sheik Hamad has pledged $250 million to protect Islamic culture in Jerusalem, a city the Palestinians want to control as part of their coveted statehood.
While the former emir pushes an Islamic agenda, his state-sponsored broadcast empire keeps growing.
Since buying Al Gore’s little-watched, liberal-oriented Current TV channel (28,000 viewers during prime time) for $400 million in January, its upcoming replacement, Al Jazeera America, has been signing up local talent — most notably former CNN anchor Soledad O'Brien and reporter David Shuster, formerly of MSNBC and Fox News. On Monday, AJA announced that it named as its president Kate O'Brian, ABC’s former senior vice president for news.
It is staffing bureaus from Washington to Los Angeles with several American reporters, such as Andrea Stone from The Huffington Post and Josh Bernstein, an investigative reporter at Denver’s KDVR Fox TV. The channel also has signed longtime Washington investigative reporter Ed Pound.
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