Copyright 2006 Time Inc.
All Rights Reserved
June 30, 2006
*SECTION:* NEWS + NOTES; Pg. 36 No. 884 / 885 Summer Double Issue
*LENGTH:* 392 words
*HEADLINE:* Al Jazeera USA;
The controversial cable news network is planning an English-language launch–but will anyone actually air it?
*BYLINE:* VANESSA JUAREZ
Image is everything. So if reports surface that President Bush had to be persuaded by Tony Blair not to bomb your headquarters–even if the allegations have been vociferously denied–it probably means you have a serious branding issue. And that’s precisely what Al Jazeera faces as it launches an English version of its famous Arab news network.
In 2004, the 24-hour news net announced plans to start a channel independent of its Arabic sibling, hiring journalists like former Nightline correspondent Dave Marash to report on everything from current affairs to entertainment news. Even so, its planned spring debut never materialized, leading some to claim the net is having trouble with the government, cable companies, the public, or all three.
And to some degree, it is. The Bush administration has accused Al Jazeera of spreading falsehoods, but that isn’t its only PR hurdle. Accuracy in Media, a conservative group that alleges the original net inspires terrorists, has launched StopAlJazeera.org. “Why should we let the enemy get access to our airwaves?” says Cliff Kincaid, editor of AIM. Earlier this month, AIM sent DVDs of its anti–Al Jazeera doc Terror Television to U.S. cable distributors, and Kincaid says their campaign will fall on receptive ears. “Some cable and satellite providers and broadcasters [have decided they] don’t want to have anything to do with [Al Jazeera],” he claims.
Al Jazeera declined to comment, other than to maintain that the delay is routine, they aren’t having difficulties, and they expect to be on the air later this year. And *Mary Rose Oakar, president of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee* and a former Democratic congresswoman, believes it has a place in the U.S. market. “[People] don’t always agree with them,” she says. “But it’s important to see different perspectives.”
Either way, everyone agrees the net is in need of a drastic public relations makeover. Says media analyst Barry Parr: “It’s hard for me to imagine companies willing to accept the controversy that would come with picking it up.” And sure enough, one leading cable outfit says they’ve only had preliminary discussions with Al Jazeera and, while they haven’t made a decision yet, its negative image is a concern. Of course, even if Al Jazeera can get past that hurdle, another serious question remains: Will America watch?
Copyright 2006 Time Inc.