Al Jazeera rolls today in the US - but will viewers still make the 9/11 link?
America gets a new cable news channel this afternoon - Al Jazeera America - counting on the excellence of its reporting to overcome US resistance to the idea of an Arab broadcaster marketing itself to mainstream America. The Qatar-based TV network was once called “vicious” by former Bush Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Now, says Bloomberg, "it hopes an American audience will be willing to look beyond its reputation as the mouthpiece of terrorists and Islamist militants." The Qatari royal family, paid $500 million for Al Gore’s money-losing Current TV in January and rebranded it. Al Jazeera America says it will offer unbiased reporting on topics such as health-care reform, drugs in baseball, and gun violence in Chicago. The channel will launch with less than half the number of ads of an average cable news channel – less than six minutes of ads an hour. The channel has 400 international correspondents -- many stationed in countries with few Western reporters . It has hired 700 staffers for a dozen U.S. bureaus including Nashville, New Orleans and Detroit. But it's still a very tough sell. Many Americans may remember Al Jazeera for Osama bin Laden’s video messages after the terrorist attacks on the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001. In 2003 the U.S. mistakenly bombed Al Jazeera’s Baghdad office, killing one of its journalists. “The mass American audience still has a negative perception around Al Jazeera post-Sept. 11 and the early days of the Iraq war,” Philip Seib, a professor of international relations at the University of Southern California told Bloomberg. “Al Jazeera won’t run away from their Middle East identity, but stressing that connection will get it about a dozen viewers.” To beat that, Al Jazeera has hired CNN personalities such as Soledad O’Brien, Ali Velshi and Emmy Award-winner Michael Okwu. Former ABC senior vice president Kate O’Brian has been made president. Research shows 50 million Americans “feel badly underserved by TV news,” said Paul Eedle, Al Jazeera America’s deputy news director. “They aren’t watching because the news doesn’t speak to them. We’re inviting people to watch us and make up their minds.” Buying Current TV, which was still running its own programmes last night, gives Al Jazeera America access to about 48 million homes nationwide. Time Warner Cable dropped Current after the purchase, but the two companies are said to be negotiating a return. In the Middle East, the network once at the forefront of the Arab Spring protests is being accused of bias. In Egypt, some of its journalists have quit, saying they were told to lionise ousted former Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood. Al Jazeera has accused Egyptian authorities of intimidating its staff after security forces raided its Cairo offices and took several staff members into custody.