Al-Jazeera launches in English today, using an Israeli satellite provider

November 15, 2006

* “Here is the news in English from al-Jazeera”
* “Gay Jewish journalists need not apply”
* Best known for broadcasting tapes from al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden

 

CONTENTS

1. Al-Jazeera uses an Israeli company as its satellite provider
2. Al-Jazeera launches its English language news channel today
3. More than an “Arab voice to the west”
4. “They’re much better than CNN or BBC”
5. “Like the BBC, the station intends to be sparing in its use of the word terrorism”
6. Gay Jewish journalists need not apply
7. “Al-Jazeera sets English launch date” (Al-Jazeera.net, Nov. 1, 2006)
8. “And finally... here is the late news in English from al-Jazeera” (Times, Nov. 13, 2006)
9. “Look east” (Guardian, Nov. 13, 2006)



[Note by Tom Gross]

[Dispatches will be less frequent than usual for the time being as work continues to be done to restructure the website.]

For those interested in the spectacular lies told by the western media about Israel, which are (as pointed out in the fourth section of the note below) often worse than the lies Al-Jazeera tells about Israel, please see this latest post from Little Green Footballs.

 

AL-JAZEERA USES AN ISRAELI COMPANY AS ITS SATELLITE PROVIDER

This email list/website can reveal that R.R. Satellite Communications, an Israeli-based satellite provider, which provides global distribution via satellites for television, radio and data channels, includes al-Jazeera among its clients.

Al-Jazeera is launching its English-language news and current affairs channel today.

R.R. Satellite Communications also provides services to CNN, NBC, Fox News, ABC, CBS, ESPN, Sky News, Reuters and MSNBC. The partial list can be seen here.

Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, one of the regular “star guests” on the Arabic-language al-Jazeera, has praised Palestinian suicide bombers on air and said Israeli Jews should die. It is unknown whether he is aware of the business arrangement between al-Jazeera and an Israeli satellite provider.

AL-JAZEERA LAUNCHES ITS ENGLISH LANGUAGE NEWS CHANNEL TODAY

Al-Jazeera launches its English-language news and current affairs channel today. It will start broadcasting from its Doha (Qatar) headquarters at 12.00 GMT. The al-Jazeera English website is also being re-launched at the same time.

The new channel will employ 250 journalists of 47 nationalities and will be one of the few channels to broadcast in high definition. It will broadcast from one of four studios around the world throughout the day, in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), Doha, London and Washington.

The English-language news channel has struggled to break into American cable television markets; most Americans will only be able to watch it on a streamed broadcast over the internet. In Europe and elsewhere, tens of millions of people will receive it as part of their cable TV package. They have hired some well-known British journalists (see the article below) as well as some American ones, such as Dave Marash, a former ABC Nightline correspondent who’ll co-anchor a daily newscast.

By the end of the year, al-Jazeera hopes to have news channels in Arabic and English, a pan-Arab newspaper, web sites and blogs, sports and children’s outlets, as well as a channel modelled on C-Span, the American channel dedicated to airing non-stop coverage of government proceedings and public affairs programming.

(This list/website originally reported that al-Jazeera would launch in English in the dispatch Al-Jazeera to be launched in English in America (March 23, 2005). Examples of the lies and conspiracy theories broadcast on air and on line by al-Jazeera were also contained in that dispatch.)

MORE THAN AN “ARAB VOICE TO THE WEST”

According to research conducted for this list/website, the Arabic-language press has thus far made little of the new English-language channel. It is expected that coverage will become more widespread in the coming days.

The Qatari daily al-Sharq reports that the English channel will not be a translated version of the Arabic channel:
www.al-sharq.com/DisplayArticle.aspx?xf=2006,November,article_20061106_155&id=local&sid=localnews

Faysal Abbas, writing in the Saudi-owned, London-based international daily al-Sharq al-Awsat, in an article titled “What does it take to break the language barrier?” commented that he hoped any Arab channels broadcasting in English would be able to compete in the international arena, gain their independence and become more than an “Arab voice to the west.” (His full article (in Arabic) can be read here: www.asharqalawsat.com/details.asp?sectionfiltered=37&article=385318&issue=10169)

On November 1, 2006, al-Jazeera celebrated its tenth anniversary. At a function held in Doha, the chairman of the board of al-Jazeera, Sheikh Hamed bin Thamer al-Thani revealed that the decision to establish al-Jazeera was strategic and the station had proved its importance. Other speakers at the event praised al-Jazeera’s contribution to promoting “freedom of journalism” and “truth” and expressed their “thanks to the Qatari government and people”.

“THEY’RE MUCH BETTER THAN CNN OR BBC”

Reaction to the launch of al-Jazeera in English has been mixed in Israel. Daniel Seaman, head of the Israel Government Press Office (and a longtime subscriber to this list), told the Jerusalem Post that he had, “only the utmost respect for al-Jazeera in Israel. They’ve tried their best to be fair, and even if I disagreed with their coverage at times, it was not one-sided. Given their audience, they show the Arab side, the Palestinian side of the conflict, but they also present Israel’s side.”

When asked if al-Jazeera was fairer to Israel than CNN or the BBC, he replied, “Absolutely, they’re much better than CNN or BBC.” (The BBC plans to launch its Arab TV channel next year.)

Seaman did say, however, that the station often gives too little time to Israeli spokespeople, and sometimes translates their remarks imprecisely. But he applauded the station for “giving Israel a stage [on Arab TV] that it didn’t have in the past.”

“LIKE THE BBC, THE STATION INTENDS TO BE SPARING IN ITS USE OF THE WORD TERRORISM”

In the second of three articles attached below, the Times of London reports that the new English-language channel “will also have to overcome the reputation of its ten-year-old Arabic sister network, best known for broadcasting tapes from al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden and which has had bureaux in Kabul and Baghdad targeted in military action since September 11.”

The Times of London reports that Nigel Parsons, the managing director, “has helped to put together a style guide which is intended to emphasize a studied neutrality. Like the BBC, the station intends to be sparing in its use of the word terrorism. The channel also promises to be circumspect about transmitting any tapes purporting to be from bin Laden and about use of the term ‘suicide bomber’. In Arabic, the word shaheed is used, which in English carries connotations of martyrdom.”

Another British paper, the Guardian, reports that “a battle has been raging for the editorial direction of the new channel between executives in the Middle East, protective of the Arabic channel’s brand and values, and the new international team.”

GAY JEWISH JOURNALISTS NEED NOT APPLY

Both the Guardian and Times articles report on the star names that have been attracted to the new channel. It is thought that Tony Blair will be one of Sir David Frost’s first guests on the al-Jazeera sofa.

The Guardian notes that “With little or no ratings or commercial pressures thanks to the Emir of Qatar’s fortune and with a remit to challenge the status quo, the new channel is a challenge that appeals to risk-taking journalists.” Rageh Omar, the former BBC presenter nicknamed the “Scud stud” during the second Gulf War, said “It has a freedom to perform a public service role and I think that’s what’s drawn people here.”

The Guardian also mentions Richard Quest of CNN, who said he turned down an offer from the new channel on the grounds that being gay and Jewish he might not be suitable.

I attach three articles below.

-- Tom Gross



FULL ARTICLES

“THE CHANCE TO REACH OUT TO A NEW AUDIENCE”

Al-Jazeera sets English launch date
Al-Jazeera.net
November 1, 2006

english.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/5356DC54-DA32-4231-A178-1791CA2C5FCF.htm

Al-Jazeera is to launch its English-language news and current affairs channel on November 15.

The al-Jazeera Network announced on Tuesday that the channel, part of the network and the sister channel to al-Jazeera, will begin broadcasting from its Doha headquarters at 1200 GMT on that day.

The al-Jazeera English-language website is being relaunched at the same time.

The announcement of the channel’s forthcoming launch coincides with the 10-year anniversary of al-Jazeera, the network’s Arabic-language channel.

Wadah Khanfar, director-general of al-Jazeera Network, said: “We are extremely proud of what al-Jazeera has achieved over the past ten years.

“al-Jazeera today is an international media organisation. Al-Jazeera English will build on the pioneering spirit of al-Jazeera and will carry our media model ... to the entire world.

“The launching of 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.

“The new channel will provide the same ground-breaking news and impartial and balanced journalism to the English-speaking world.”

Agenda-setting

The English channel will have broadcast centres in Doha, Kuala Lumpur, London and Washington DC.

The website aljazeera.net/english will showcase the English channel’s agenda-setting editorial mission and provide constantly updated coverage of news events from around the world, along with in-depth analysis and background.

It will provide RSS feeds, live streams and downloadable clips from the channel, as well as interactive discussions and polling.

Programme and presenter information as well as weather reports, live business data and sport will also be available.

 

A REPUTATION TO OVERCOME

And finally... here is the late news in English from al-Jazeera
By Dan Sabbagh
The Times
November 13, 2006

www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,3-2451674,00.html

Al-Jazeera, the broadcaster once denounced as propaganda by Donald Rumsfeld, will launch its long-awaited English-language channel on Wednesday in the hope of tipping the balance of the international news agenda.

Based in Qatar and funded by the country’s Emir, al-Jazeera International has poached journalists such as Sir David Frost, Rageh Omar and the BBC newsreader Darren Jordon. Its goal is to become a respected and impartial provider of news, watched in well over 5 million homes, and to act as an alternative to the American and European media. It will employ 250 journalists of 47 nationalities.

Nigel Parsons, the managing director, promised a slightly different news agenda. “When our rivals covered the verdict of the Saddam trial, they went back to London and Washington for the reaction of Middle East experts; our experts are Arabs in the Middle East.”

Jordon, who will be a news anchor based in Doha, said that it was exciting to work with people from a range of cultures, which could be interpreted as a veiled criticism of the BBC, once described as “hideously white” by Greg Dyke, its former Director-General.

The channel was expected to be on the air a year ago, but has been dogged by repeated delays. It will be one of the few channels to be broadcast in high definition and will run a round-the-clock service from four principal bureaux, in Kuala Lumpur, Doha, London and Washington.

It will also have to overcome the reputation of its ten-year-old Arabic sister network, best known for broadcasting tapes from al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden and which has had bureaux in Kabul and Baghdad targeted in military action since September 11.

Mr Parsons, a Briton, like many al-Jazeera International employees, has helped to put together a style guide which is intended to emphasise a studied neutrality. Like the BBC, the station intends to be sparing in its use of the word terrorism. The channel also promises to be circumspect about transmitting any tapes purporting to be from bin Laden and about use of the term “suicide bomber”. In Arabic, the word shaheed is used, which in English carries connotations of martyrdom.

Although the Emir owns the al-Jazeera network, which will include sports channels and a documentary channel next year, there is no evidence of overt political interference. The Arabic and English operations will share bureaux, video and staff, creating an opportunity for cultural crossover between the two stations’ values.

The channel idea has quickly won acceptance in Europe, where it will be available in more than 40 million homes, and it is thought that Tony Blair will be one of Sir David’s first guests on the al-Jazeera sofa.

Despite attempts to cultivate the White House, Congress and US broadcasters, however, it is struggling to get mass distribution in the United States.

FAMILIAR FACES

Sir David Frost: Presenter, Frost Over The World, weekly interview programme. Veteran interviewer whose style has softened in the past decade

Rageh Omar: Presenter, Witness, a daily documentary. Somali-born, British-educated journalist, who made his name as the BBC’s reporter in Baghdad during the Iraq War

Darren Jordan: News anchor, based in Doha. One of the BBC’s most prominent black journalists. Spent eight years in Jamaican Army. Educated at Sandhurst.

 

“AN EDITORIAL BATTLE HAS BEEN RAGING”

Look east
By Owen Gibson and Afshin Rattansi
The Guardian
November 13, 2006

media.guardian.co.uk/site/story/0,,1946122,00.html

After long delays and a rumoured editorial split with its Arabic parent, English-language news channel al-Jazeera will go on air this week. Owen Gibson and Afshin Rattansi report

Unsurprisingly for a broadcaster which attracted so much US opprobrium post 9/11 that George W Bush apparently wanted to bomb its headquarters, al-Jazeera is not shy of standing its ground. And its new English language news channel is not exactly aiming low a “bridge between cultures” and “bringing the south to the north” are just two of the worthy aims being bandied around by staff.

“People have very preconceived ideas, whether they’re negative or they’re all good,” says Rageh Omaar, the former BBC correspondent who has become one of the channel’s many big-name recruits.

Originally due on air in late 2005, then spring of this year, then September, the long-delayed 24-hour global channel, providing news with a Middle Eastern perspective will at last start on Wednesday. Ask any of those dashing around its impressive hi-tech newsroom all open plan studios and glass offices and they will tell you the delay was all about technical hitches.

The channel is planning to offer high definition pictures and will broadcast from one of four studios throughout the day, following the sun to deliver the news in turn from Kuala Lumpur, Doha, London and Washington. Much of the global news battle is about sheer size and heft, and al-Jazeera International (AJI) will not go short as it goes head to head with CNN and the BBC. It has 18 bureaux around the world, 60 when taken together with the Arabic channels’ offices, and 500 staff of its own. But ask anyone else loosely plugged in to the global news grapevine and they will tell you that a battle has been raging for the editorial direction of the new channel between executives in the Middle East, protective of the Arabic channel’s brand and values, and the new international team.

A LUCKY MEETING

The story begins in the land of Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat Kazakhstan, a country with a questionable record on press freedom that hosts an annual media junket. Qatari officials had approached the former CNN presenter, Riz Khan, to take soundings for a new global channel. (His show, Q&A, features in the new network’s schedules.) At the Kazak conference, he reputedly ran into Nigel Parsons, the future head of the English project, at the bar.

It was a lucky meeting. Parsons had found himself out of work after leaving his job as director of sales at the Associated Press Television News agency. He brought in Paul Gibbs and an old friend, Steve Clark, to work with him on the launch.

But there were delays from the start. It was hard to recruit big-name presenters: Richard Quest of CNN said he turned down an offer on the grounds that being gay and Jewish might not be suitable. There were also problems over where to locate the four main hubs. A decision to base one in New York was vetoed in favour of Washington, and the Chinese government could not guarantee freedom from editorial pressure in Hong Kong so Kuala Lumpur was chosen for Asia. (London and Qatar make up the other two.)

But it was the departure of Gibbs, director of programmes, in August that gave credence to rumours that delays were being caused by editorial disagreements and not just practical concerns. Some say there is an element of suspicion among staff who work for the original, Arabic channel about the upstart English version. There was disquiet about the launch team: Clark is a former editor of Richard Littlejohn’s now-axed show on Sky News, and was not exactly seen as a natural fit. Yosri Fouda, now the bureau chief of the Arabic arm, was openly sceptical about the whole idea of starting an English-language channel.

There were mutterings that the rapid hiring spree led to compromises on quality and differences of opinion over the editorial tone. It seems these voices have won the day: Gibbs’ vision for a “BBC style” channel of record has given way to the Doha-driven philosophy of providing a voice to challenge the western media’s worldview. Wadah Khanfar, the well-regarded director general of the al-Jazeera network, was placed in overall charge after Gibbs’ departure.

In its basement London offices, located in a black granite and glass office block otherwise inhabited by merchant bankers and abuzz with activity, bureau chief Sue Phillips waves away the chatter, insisting the “negative stuff” is just tittle-tattle. “There aren’t any differences, it’s the opposite. We’re learning so much from them and being guided by them,” she says of the links between the Arabic channel and the new English language channel. “People like to think that [there is a split], but it’s not the case at all. There are very close links and very close ties.”

ANNOYED AND FRUSTRATED

The other “negative stuff” the perception that al-Jazeera is a mouthpiece for terrorists, the baseless rumour that it broadcast beheadings is already dissipating and will drift away as the scales drop from western eyes, Phillips confidently predicts. Omaar is more forthright. “I get very annoyed and frustrated. I have worked a lot with al-Jazeera journalists across the world. Every single assertion is based on hearsay and is totally devoid of fact. We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the Arabic channel and I think their journalism is excellent,” he says, pointing out that it gets just as much flak from Middle Eastern regimes as the west.

Phillips is also coy when it comes to discussing the vexed issue of language when does a terrorist become a freedom fighter and a suicide bomber a martyr? beyond saying they have discussed the issues “at length” and will publicly issue a glossary of terminology before launch. “We adhere to western broadcasting standards. There will be differences because they’re different cultures,” she says of the more graphic approach taken to covering stories on the Arabic language channel. “But that doesn’t mean to say that we won’t be bold and controversial in our coverage.” The goal, says Phillips, is to bring the “south to the north, rather than the other way around”. But with so much of the competition tightly focused on its target audience whether defined by country or political worldview does she not worry that AJI will end up a pale shadow of its sister network?

She says that misses the point and that simply by basing domestic reporters in the Middle East and the developing world, it will bring a revolutionary new perspective. “Africans will report Africa and Asians will report Asia. I hope that will help express what al-Jazeera is all about - not just one guiding light but several.”

Rival broadcasters looked on agog as AJI embarked on a Roman Abramovich-style dash around the world’s major news networks, signing up the ambitious, ageing, idealistic and disaffected on megabucks salaries bankrolled by the rich natural gas reserves of Qatar. But Omaar, who will present a nightly documentary strand called Witness showcasing authored films from around the world, says that no one should ever have doubted the scale or ambition of the project. Beyond the undoubted allure of big salaries, Omaar says that what drew such signings as him, Sir David Frost, Nightline presenter Dave Marash, Khan and One O’Clock News anchor Darren Jordon, was the sense of freedom.

POTENT WEAPON

With little or no ratings or commercial pressures thanks to the Emir of Qatar’s fortune and with a remit to challenge the status quo, the new channel is a challenge that appeals to risk-taking journalists. “It has a freedom to perform a public service role and I think that’s what’s drawn people here,” says the one-time “Scud stud”.

In 10 short years al-Jazeera, created out of the ashes of a failed BBC attempt to launch a Middle Eastern channel and thanks to the Emir’s farsighted assumption that a TV channel would be a far more potent weapon than spending his money on diplomacy or defence, has become a daily habit for 50 million people across the region and grown into a global brand to rival Google, Starbucks or CNN. And Omaar is more forthcoming about the nervousness back in Doha “When you have really sweated and, literally, shed blood for this channel that has broken the mould you’re naturally going to feel very protective towards it,” he admits. “It would be ridiculous to pretend there wasn’t two different organisations. We have to learn and find our feet but I’m very confident that’s going to happen.”

Insiders at the London offices of the Arabic channel say that when the new English language service was first mooted bureau chief Yosri Fouda was openly hostile. Meanwhile, Arabic al-Jazeera was coming under increased pressure of its own due to the success of new Arab channels such as the Saudi-backed Al Arabiya and the impending launch of a BBC World Service channel in the region.

There is a curious mixture of backs-against-the-wall defiance and missionary zeal, even in some of the most experienced hands involved. “You’re not going to get this again, are you?” whistles Cole, likening it to the buzz around the launch of Sky News. “Someone with deep enough pockets to launch an international news channel. No way, not with new media on the way.”

Yet even the relentlessly upbeat Phillips will admit the delays have been “a little frustrating”, keeping half an eye on the flat screen monitor that relays the “as live” pilot programming that has been running for more than two months while technical issues are resolved. But she is insistent that it will be worth it. The obvious target audience for AJI is English-speaking Muslims around the world. But Phillips is confident that there is also an untapped well of other viewers, in the US in particular, craving an alternative view of the world. Much of that will depend on distribution and it remains to be seen how widespread US carriage will be.

All involved plead for time before making a judgment on the channel, which will broadly follow the same hourly cycle as other 24-hour news operations the top of each hour devoted to rolling news and the other half an hour given over to a documentary, discussion or current affairs show.

SEISMIC CHANGE

In this “back half”, alongside the big setpiece Frost Over the World interviews (Tony Blair is all but confirmed for the first on Friday), entertainment, sport, business and a media show presented by former ABC correspondent Richard Gizbert, the ambition is to empower documentary makers from around the world to tell their stories. Those embarking on this adventure are convinced that just as CNN forged a new path during the cold war era and the subsequent fall of the iron curtain, so AJI can become the news channel of record for a world that tilts on a Middle Eastern axis and is increasingly looking to Asia and Africa.

“What I’m impressed by so far is that we are finding local talent and local filmmakers to tell stories about places which they know,” says Rebecca Lipkin, the evangelical London programming chief. “That is a seismic change, nothing less than seismic in the way journalism is done.” Omaar is not too concerned. “How bad can it be? It’s been bombed twice, how much damage can a couple of negative editorials do?”


All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.