Al Jazeera English gets cold shoulder from US broadcasters

The new English-language version of Al Jazeera got virtually the cold shoulder in the US. Despite almost a year- long campaign, hardly any cable networks or TV outlets have signed up to carry the service.

Just about the only viewers or listeners able to tune in are those who have high-speed internet.

One reason for the cold shoulder could be the continuing criticism of Al Jazeera and accusations that it has links with terrorism. Some US officials, including defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, went so far as to accuse the parent news service of purveying "vicious lies" in its coverage of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Worse, many officials still regard Al Jazeera — including its English language spin-off — as anti-American and a "mouthpiece" for Osama bin Laden.

The new network has set up bureaux in several cities around the world, and does claim that ultimately it will reach somewhere between 70 and 80 million homes worldwide.

The failure to make a wide impact in the US is disappointing to top journalists and executives — some 500 altogether — who have signed up to work for the new network, notably David Marash, a former veteran ABC News correspondent, who will be the number one anchor in the new Washington studios.

"Of course you want to play to your home crowd if you can" he told the New York Sun. But he believes the problem will be rectified in time — when more people get a chance to watch it they will change their feelings.

The new round-the-clock network, financed largely by the family of the leader of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifar al-Thani, has spent a lot of money (one report suggested at least $1,000 million) on new state-of-the art equipment in Kuala Lumpur, Doha, London and Washington.

Originally, the plan was to produce about a quarter of its broadcasts from Washington, but Marash now concedes that for the moment only two daily broadcasts will originate in Washington, a half hour newscast at 6pm local time, and a live discussion programme at 1pm hosted by former CNN international reporter Riz Khan.

Another noted journalist who has joined the team is of course David Frost who was scheduled, in his first broadcast, to interview Tony Blair

Accuracy in Media, the ultra-conservative journalistic watchdog, this week "inducted" David Frost, Dave Marash and others into what it has dubbed a its " Hall of Shame".

At the same time, it released a mini-documentary with photographs and biographical information about dozens of Al Jazeera journalists, including many who previously worked for CNN, the BBC and ITN.

It also called on the US government to look into the national security implications of the new American service — particularly how it could be used to promote "incendiary anti-American messages" among Muslims and Arabs living in the US.

As for its hiring so many former Western journalists, Cliff Kincaid, an editorial spokesman for AIM, suggested: "They need Western media faces to give them credibility."

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