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Sat 4 Nov 2006 08:00 PM

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Al Jazeera plans to launch Arab newspaper

The Al Jazeera network is secretly planning to launch a regional Arabic newspaper, Arabian Business can reveal. The paper is expected to be rolled out within the next two months, according to senior sources at the company.

The revelations come as the company confirmed it is to launch Al Jazeera International, its English language news channel on November 15 - but with a scaled down 12-hour day programming schedule.

The newspaper project is believed to be fronted by senior staff formerly at Al Hayat newspaper, and will be distributed across the Arab world, though it is unclear whether permission has been granted to appear in Saudi Arabia. The company’s Arabic news channel Al Jazeera is banned in Saudi Arabia.

A source close to the company told Arabian Business: “The idea of the newspaper is not just to capitalise on the Al Jazeera brand name, but also to take on the Saudis. They feel that they can get a share of the advertising market and be influential in the same way the television channel has been."

“This project has been kept very secret, and because everyone is looking at the launch of the English news channel, they have been able to get on and do it quietly. If possible, they would like to bring it out on the tenth anniversary of Al Jazeera launching, which is only a matter of weeks away.”

Meanwhile, almost a year after first having planned to launch its English news channel, the station last week finally comes that it will begin broadcasting at 12pm GMT in two weeks.

However, it is believed that a number of technical issues and disagreements over the contents have forced the station to scale down its plans.

“For now we will do just 12 hours a day. We had big plans and its a bit embarrassing because we have always described ourselves as a 24–hour English news channel. The rest will probably just be repeats,” says a company source.

Other sources have revealed growing unrest within the boardroom over the editorial direction of the station. Despite targeting an English speaking Arab audience, most of the big name presenters are Westerners, such as media legend Sir David Frost.

Last week, the station’s managing director Nigel Parsons told Arabian Business: “We are sure there will be an audience for us, and we are confident of success.”

So far 300 staff have been hired, and the station is expected to run at a loss for several years. Its sister station Al Jazeera, which broadcasts Arabic news, has swallowed around US$300m of investment from the Qatari government, but has yet to turn in a profit.

Parsons said: “It would be nice for us to break even in year one but nobody is expecting that to happen. But I think over a number of years the revenues will increase. We have a large global audience."

Others remain less convinced. Arab Advisors analyst Judeh Sawaidy said: “It is going to be a challenge financially. For a long time, channels in this region have not had a big impact on advertisers."

Al Jazeera has not been gathering profits, but whether it made advertising revenues or not was not that important. It was about expanding its reputation.

“My view is that yes, they will get an audience for the English channel, but it will be mostly Arabs living abroad who want their own channel, and a so-called “curious” audience.”

He added: “Internationally, Al Jazeera is a well-known and successful brand. Whether you think the Arabic channel is controversial or not, it plays a very important role in the media. But when you launch an English channel, the game changes."

“You are going into a far bigger, and diversified market. They are up against over 100 English language news channels, including people like CNN and Sky News. Don’t forget even in places like the US, CNN is not the most watched news channel. It is local stations. That is the kind of battle they face.”

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