- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 11, 2005

DOHA, Qatar - The Al Jazeera Arab satellite channel, known for broadcasting taped messages by al Qaeda leaders, on Friday launched a new children’s channel combining entertainment with the teaching of tolerance.

The “Al Jazeera Children’s Channel” hopes to be a first in the Arab world, as the Qatar-based television network bids to overcome criticism by the United States and conservative Arab regimes over perceived bias in its news broadcasts.

“It will take some time,” said the executive director of the channel, Mahmoud Buneb, who stressed that this channel will be “different.”

“Children adore American cartoons. We will provide subdued, calm content,” he said in an interview with Agence France-Presse.

“This is not an indoctrination tool … to shock or gratuitously provoke is out of the question.”

Arabic-language children’s programming can already be seen on MBC3, a Saudi-based channel

that belongs to Al Jazeera’s rival Al Arabiya, and satellite dishes make Cartoon Network-type children’s shows widely available.

But the goal of Al Jazeera’s youth channel is to teach modern values such as open-mindedness and tolerance to Arab children age 3 to 15 and their families, organizers said.

“We are embarking on a television project that will, we hope, be viewed by television viewers, families and children alike,” Mr. Buneb said.

However, there are “no taboos,” he said, citing an upcoming program on female genital circumcision featuring women who were victims of the practice.

The channel has been in the works for three years, and is a joint venture between Al Jazeera and the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development, the latter which owns 90 percent and is a publicly funded organization headed by the wife of Qatar’s emir.

“It’s a private company but with a public service mission and is publicly funded,” said Jean Rouilly, CEO of Lagardere International Images, a branch of the French company Lagardere, which came up with the idea for the channel.

Lagardere manages audiovisual operations for the children’s‘ channel, recruited staff and oversees programming finances.

Mr. Rouilly said the channel has no intention of competing with cartoons or already-existing Arabic-language children’s programming that is solely aimed to entertain.

Describing the new broadcast as “educational fun,” Mr. Rouilly said criteria for programming on the new Al Jazeera channel asks: “Does it bring something to children?” in contrast to other shows that ask: “Will it please them?”

He said the channel is “unique” because, according to him, no other channel in the world ever had the means to produce entertaining programming that is also educational.

“It can work here because they have the means to produce it,” he said.

The channel plans to broadcast six hours of daily programming and will be on air 18 hours a day during the week and 19 hours on the weekend.

The channel has an annual budget of 40 million euros ($50 million) and five foreign bureaus including one in Paris.

As if to illustrate that its goal is distant from Al Jazeera’s, the new channel’s Qatar office is not based at the television network but in “Education City,” a development project launched by the Qatar Foundation aimed at attracting renowned foreign universities to the Gulf emirate.

However, the ability to use Al Jazeera’s name and logo and to broadcast across Al Jazeera’s satellite reach should allow the channel to gain quick recognition across the Arab world.

The channel will be broadcast in the 21 Arab countries and the Palestinian territories on Arabsat and Nilesat, and throughout Europe on Hotbird.

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