With a staff nearing 120 in the new Washington, DC, bureau, Al-Jazeera International, aka AJI, originally planned its first worldwide broadcast last fall with the intention of competing against the likes of BBC, CNN and Fox.
Then we heard it would be April. No, wait a minute, sometime this month or later this summer? Or…how about no earlier than September?
And so it goes with the new English language news network run by the controversial Arab-language Al-Jazeera news network. The satellite television empire is owned by the emir of Qatar, ruler of the postage-stamp country on the Persian Gulf and a key US ally in Iraq war.
It’s not because staff is taking advantage of the generous seven weeks vacation plans en mass that the network gives them. (The money’s not bad, either.)
It’s because technical difficulties keep interrupting the debut broadcast, according to former ABC Nightline correspondent Dave Marash, who heads the new AJI bureau in DC that fills four office floors on the 1600 block of K Street.
“They’re still completing the physical structure, the newsrooms, the studios, and all of the fiber-optic wire links between them, and it’s taking a them a lot longer than advertised,” Marash told The New York Sun‘s Josh Gerstein.
Marash predicts the network will be “state of the art,” when work is complete and packaging the news in cutting-edge, high-definition video.
Reporter Gerstein also relates Al-Jazeera’s ongoing startup delays caused by problems in outfitting and connecting the network’s broadcast centers in Washington; London; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and Doha, Qatar.
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Delays had been credited previously to the network’s failure to land a US cable distribution deal. Cable companies have been claiming there’s no room for more news networks, but skeptics think it’s because the Arab-language network mixes news with terrorist sympathies.
Al Qaeda leaders deliver their Arab language messages to Al-Jazeera before other news organizations. The network also receives video footage of insurgent attacks on American forces in Iraq before anyone else and offers more news on civilian casualties and injuries.
The network DOES often take a critical look at the US war on terrorism — so critical, in fact, that Al Jazeera has been banned from Iraq. (Some think of the network as the mirror image of Fox, but judge for yourself. Seeing the documentary Control Room might be a good start. Josh Rushing, a military US Central Command press officer, was featured prominently in the 2004 film. He now works for AJI in the Washington bureau.)
Gerstein, also formerly with ABC as an off-air White House reporter, lays out the “other” problems the new network faces, beginning in his lead: “as critics pound the network with allegations that it has ties to terrorists and insurgents in Iraq.”
Look for the conservative DC media watchdog group, Accuracy in the Media, to be standing at the vanguard of those critics. Cliff Kincaid, editor for the group, says he prepared a 20-minute documentary making the case that Al-Jazeera inspires terrorists and, in some cases, has been infiltrated by them.
“I’ve got to believe they’re running into quite a bit of resistance from cable operators and satellite providers. I think that’s because they’re understanding the history and sponsorship of this operation,” Kincaid told The New York Sun. “We are continuing to monitor this and make sure nobody jumps at the bait.”
Marash concedes the network may have played a role in the decisions of some in the Arab world to attack Americans. “Undoubtedly, some Al-Jazeera programs may have inspired some social misfits to undertake terrorism,” he said. “The danger with information is that some people will take it the wrong way.”
In addition to Marash, a handful of other Nightline refugees have arrived at the network, including producer Joanne Levine. Sol Levine, former CNN producer of Crossfire, and veteran NBC producer Bob Abeshouse are also on the scene. More staff has traveled across the pond from BBC.
The plan is for anchors from around the world to switch off around the clock from Washington, Kuala Lumpur, Doha and London, making the news cast truly global. In addition to hosting six hours of news each day in Washington, the AJI bureau in DC holds the reins to People and Power, a long-format investigative news magazine. Staffers say there will be plenty of opportunity for freelancers shooting video around the world.