Tuesday, 19 Feb 2013 12:55 PM
Al Jazeera, the cable news network owned by the government of Qatar, has big plans for its American operation despite being criticized by the U.S. government for airing videos from Osama bin Laden.
Bob Wheelock, the former ABC executive in charge of setting it up, believes times have changed and so has Al Jazeera’s image.
“Imagine six or seven years ago, trying to find real estate for Al Jazeera in Washington. I’m sure it wasn’t easy,” he told USA Today. Now, he said, “We’re going to have signage, you know, just like CBS, ABC, CNN, NBC, just like everybody else. We’re psyched.”
Al Jazeera spent $500 million last year to buy Current TV — which can be seen on cable channels in 41 million homes — from former Vice President Al Gore and other investors. Cable operators have the option of dropping Al Jazeera, which Time Warner has suggested it might do.
Al Jazeera English, which launched in 2006, has until now been available on just a few cable systems or online. It has won numerous awards, however, for its international news — especially its coverage of the Arab Spring — and received praise from some in Washington, including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
“We hope to bring international news and more in-depth storytelling for the viewers,” said Wheelock. “There’s an appetite for news from elsewhere and for the documentaries we do and the type of coverage we do.”
Al Jazeera America plans to increase its staff of 13 to some 200 people across the country. It is building a new broadcast center in Washington, expanding its space at the UN in New York, and setting up bureaus in Detroit, New Orleans, San Francisco and five other cities.
The network recently posted job listings for more than 100 reporters, producers, videographers, and online writers and received thousands of applications.
Al Jazeera will face an already crowded field of cable news providers, competing with American channels, including CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC, and global networks such as BBC World News, Russia Today, France 24 and CCTV.