Al Jazeera America promises less political chat and celebrity news
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Al Jazeera’s American cable-news channel will be unbiased and feature more in-depth reporting and less political grandstanding and celebrity coverage, a top executive involved in the channel’s launch said.
“This channel will elevate the mainstream voice,” said Ehab Al Shihabi, executive director of international operations for Al Jazeera Media Network during an interview at the National Cable & Telecommunications Assn.'s annual convention here.
Al Shihabi is here to try to convince cable operators to carry Al Jazeera America, which is scheduled to launch in late summer. So far, Al Jazeera America has deals with pay-TV distributors reaching 50 million homes. Its parent company, Al Jazeera Media Network — bought Current TV earlier this year and is using it as a platform to launch an American-centric channel.
The most significant holdout is Time Warner Cable, the biggest distributor in New York City and Los Angeles. Al Shihabi said talks have been “very encouraging.”
Al Jazeera America has opened 12 bureaus in the United States. Besides New York and L.A., the network will have news hubs in Chicago, Denver, Nashville and New Orleans. The channel will have a staff of 800 at launch.
“This is a serious investment,” Al Shihabi said. “We’re here to win, not survive.”
One position the network is still looking to fill is president of its U.S. operations. Al Shihabi would not say who is in the running but did note that there has been no shortage of applicants.
Al Jazeera America is still finalizing its schedule of programs. Al Shihabi said it will have morning and evening news shows as well as a nightly news magazine. It will also have a finance show hosted by former CNN correspondent Ali Velshi.
While Al Shihabi praised Fox News for serving its audience well, he thinks there is an opening for a straight news and documentary channel that will steer clear of the opinion, crime and lifestyle fluff that fills other networks.
“A lot of the audience wants in-depth journalism.” Al Shihabi said, adding that news will take priority over maximizing profits. Al Jazeera is funded by the government of Qatar and its deep pockets means it can play by a different set of rules.
For example, when Al Jazeera America debuts, it will carry fewer commercials than other news channels, in the hopes of keeping viewers from channel surfing.
Al Shihabi downplayed the idea that Al Jazeera America would be a tough sell for some distributors who may view the parent company as anti-American.
“There is a bucket of resistance but it is changing,” he said. The negative opinions, he added, tend to come from people unfamiliar with Al Jazeera’s product.
“We’re going to demonstrate demand,” Al Shihabi said.
Follow Joe Flint on Twitter @JBFlint.
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