By Daniel Shane
Qatari broadcaster gears up to go live amid internal strife and sceptical audience
Al Jazeera America, the US-based operation of the Qatari broadcaster, is to go live on Tuesday evening promising a more sober take on world news.
The 24-hour network, which will be available to about half of the country’s 100m cable TV subscribers, was setup in the wake of Al Jazeera’s $500m acquisition of Current TV, the current affair channel founded by former vice president Al Gore.
"There will be less opinion, less yelling and fewer celebrity sightings," the network’s acting CEO Ehab Al Shihabi said during a conference call last week.
In preparation for the launch, Al Jazeera America has put together a team of 900 employees and will operate out of 12 bureaus across the US. The broadcaster has also appointed ABC executive Kate O’Brian as its president and former CNN anchor Ali Velshi.
It will initially be available to about 49m households, although some experts believe that it will struggle to capture anywhere near this amount. Current TV was dropped by carrier Time Warner Cable just hours after its sale to Al Jazeera was announced.
Claire Enders, head of UK-based Enders Analysis, said that Al Jazeera is a “tainted brand” in the US, based on the perception among the American public that it is “anti-Israel” and for its role in airing Al Qaeda videos during the Afghanistan war.
“It’s a very unattractive brand in the US,” she added. “Americans have very little interest in foreign news services anyway. The BBC, which is a very credible service, barely appears on the radar, despite having been distributed on cable systems for ten years.”
The launch has also been hit by internal strife within the network. In an email circulated to Al Jazeera’s top executives, the station’s senior political analyst Marwan Bishara claimed there were efforts by the US operation to distance itself from Doha in a bid to avoid being labelled “anti-American”, going so far as to employ mostly US citizens.
“How have we moved from the main idea that the strength of AJN (Al Jazeera News) lies in the diversity, plurality and even accents of its journalists to a channel where only Americans work?,” he asked.
Al Jazeera America will go live on Tuesday at 15:00 US eastern time.