Al-Jazeera English to launch

Al-Jazeera English will begin broadcasting from the network’s studios in Doha, Qatar, with 12 hours of live programming, which it plans to boost to 24 hours on January 1.

The channel only changed its name from Al-Jazeera International to Al-Jazeera English yesterday, less than 24 hours before going on air.

US waits

The rebaptised channel said it hoped to reach a potential audience of 80 million viewers by cable and satellite, mostly in Asia, Africa and Europe, but announced it would not be available on cable in the US.

Commercial director Lindsey Oliver said its US market would be restricted to the country’s two million satellite viewers for at least a year as “there is no free space for us on the US cable network.”

A spokeswoman for the largest US cable operator Comcast confirmed that it would not be carrying Al-Jazeera English after exploratory talks failed.

“We had some preliminary discussions but we do not have a carriage agreement,” said spokeswoman Jenni Moyer.

US ambassador to Doha Chase Untermeyer insisted that US distribution rights for Al-Jazeera English were a purely commercial matter for the companies concerned.

“I don’t think the problem is political,” he said.

High-powered recruits

Big name Western journalists have been recruited by the channel, such as award-winning former ITV and BBC broadcaster David Frost, who will present a current affairs programme called “Frost over the World”.

“Al-Jazeera International is uniquely positioned to reverse the information flow from South to North and to provide a voice to under-reported regions around the world,” the network said in a statement issued before the name-change.

“(It) is a new force in the global English-speaking media with the ability to seek out and cover different perspectives of news.”

Al-Jazeera English will have four regional broadcasting centres in Doha, Kuala Lumpur, London and Washington, in addition to 20 other bureaux. It will also benefit from access to the facilities of its Arabic mother channel.

“Launching the English channel offers the chance to reach out to a new audience that is used to hearing the name of Al-Jazeera without being able to watch it or to understand its language,” said network general director Wadah Khanfar.

He pledged “impartial and balanced” news coverage by the new channel.

Al-Jazeera, which celebrated its 10th anniversary on November 1, has revolutionised news media in the Arab world, but it has also provoked controversy.

It gained worldwide recognition mainly because of its broadcast of videotapes issued by Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden — the US’s most-wanted man in its “war on terror”.

The broadcaster also upset a number of Arab governments, and was accused by Washington of providing a platform for extremist groups, mainly in Iraq where it has been barred from operating since 2004.

Like the original Arabic-language version, Al-Jazeera English has not revealed its budget. The entire network is subsidised by the government of tiny gas-rich Qatar.