Tags: al | jazeera | america | debut | ads | coverage

Al Jazeera America Debuts With Few Ads and Attacks on Coverage

Tuesday, 20 Aug 2013 07:24 PM

By Todd Beamon and Greg Richter

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Al Jazeera America debuted on cable networks in the United States on Tuesday with few major advertisers and amid criticism that its coverage of the Egyptian crisis was sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood.

The network, which is owned and financed by the oil-rich nation of Qatar, began operating on cable channels that carried Current TV.

Al Jazeera reportedly paid former Democratic Vice President Al Gore and his partners $500 million for the struggling liberal Current TV news channel in January.

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"It's hard to sell [ad time] to an American buyer," a New York advertising agency buyer told The New York Post on Tuesday. "There's so much backlash. I’d never advise anyone to buy it. It's a much easier way to get that audience with less risk."

Based in New York, Al Jazeera America seeks to compete with Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC for a U.S. audience, despite a deep distrust of the Arab nation in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the Iraq war.

After the attacks on New York City and the Pentagon, Al Jazeera broadcast video from Osama bin Laden and did a live interview with the mass murderer.

And even though its deep pockets have allowed the network to hire a staff of 850 and create 12 bureaus in the United States — including 70 more worldwide — Al Jazeera America premiered on Tuesday with only six minutes of commercials each hour, the Post reported.

That, compared with 15 to 17 minutes of commercials for its competitors, the Post wrote.

Several of Current TV's advertisers pulled out when the Al Jazeera deal was announced.

Time Warner Cable also dropped Current shortly after the deal became public, cutting Al Jazeera America's anticipated viewership to 48 million homes, compared with about 100 million for its competitors.

Al Jazeera America also is not carried by Cablevision in the New York region, the Post reports.

Most of the ads running on the network Tuesday were in-house promos and local spots, the Post reported.

"I wouldn’t give them a dime, especially since we are in New York," one advertiser, who asked not to be named, told the Post.

"They’re owned by an Arab country and they ran the bin Laden tapes," he added. "I just wouldn’t trust them."

A major buyer for another ad agency who was pitched on the channel was even more blunt: "Not touching that one."

Al Jazeera America lauds the low rate of commercials as a boon to viewers.

"[Advertisers] have been especially interested in our decision to limit the number of commercial minutes each hour and how our commitment to fact-based, unbiased and in-depth reporting appeals to the same audience they are trying to reach," a spokesman told the Post.

Online, too, the advertising presence is almost nonexistent, the Post reports. The website is still in "beta" test mode.

Ehab Al Shihabi, Al Jazeera America's CEO, acknowledged to the Post last week that surveys showed 75 percent of Americans hadn’t seen any of the network's coverage but still had a negative view of it, though he added that sentiment often softened once people viewed it.

Al Jazeera America is running ads in The New Yorker and in other major U.S. media publications, asking audiences to give it a chance and promising that its global perspective will "change the way you look at news."

Its line-up of hosts for prime time include former NBC News anchor John Seigenthaler, who will lead its nightly newscast at 8 p.m. It will be followed by a magazine-style show hosted by CNN alumna Joie Chen — and another former CNN anchor, Soledad O'Brien, has joined the network.

Former CNN business journalist Ali Velshi will host a 7 p.m. show called "Real Money."

But Al Jazeera America immediately came under heavy fire Tuesday for airing what appeared to be the fake death of a Muslim Brotherhood-backed protester in Egypt, The Washington Free Beacon  reports.

The advocacy website FSA Crimes  charged that Al Jazeera's coverage has been biased toward the brotherhood. The website tracks alleged war crimes committed by rebel fighters battling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

In the report, a distraught woman yells in Arabic — and the man in question can be seen clutching what is described as a gunshot wound.

But when the man's hand is moved, it becomes apparent that he has not been injured despite a pool of blood, The Free Beacon reports.

"Covered in blood, his hand rests on what would seem to be the source of that blood, a gunshot wound," FSA wrote of the apparently staged death on its website.

"'Doctors' surrounding him as he lays there, eyes shut and face frozen," FSA wrote. "One of the 'doctors' then decides to lift the man's shirt up and, to the viewers' big surprise, there is no wound underneath the shirt!

"The supposed dead man, wanting to obstruct the view of his nonwound for the camera, then effortlessly repositions his legs in the way of the camera," according to FSA Crimes.

The Al Jazeera America report then quickly cuts to a different angle once the man moves, The Free Beacon reports.

FSA Crimes said the video proved that Al Jazeera backed the Muslim Brotherhood, which continues to protest last month's ouster of former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi.

"The strong bias of Al Jazeera in Egypt was always to be expected," FSA wrote. "Their support for the Muslim Brotherhood was a given, and there was never any doubt that the new interim government had their suspicions about the news agency."

The Muslim Brotherhood has been known to inflate the numbers of those wounded in protests and has been caught faking violence in the past, The Free Beacon reports.

In beginning its broadcast day, Al Jazeera America showed a video of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who appears to be the likely Democratic front-runner for president in 2016, and 2008 GOP presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, who both seemed to laud the network.

"It is really effective, and in fact viewership of Al Jazeera is going up in the United States because it's real news," Clinton said.

Story continues below video.

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But what wasn't included was Clinton's context: "We're the most technologically advanced country in the world. So, slowly but surely, we've been trying to take back the airwaves in Afghanistan against Taliban with the most primitive kind of communication equipment.

"Now, take that as one example where I don’t think we were very competitive — and we have worked like crazy to change that — and then go to the most extreme where you've got a set of global networks — that Al Jazeera has been the leader in — that are literally changing people's minds and attitudes.

"And, like it or hate it, it is really effective," Clinton added. "And in fact, viewership of Al Jazeera is going up in the United States because it's real news.

"You may not agree with it, but you feel like you're getting real news around the clock instead of a million commercials and arguments between talking heads and the kind of stuff that we do on our news which, you know, is not particularly informative to us, let alone foreigners."

Then came McCain's turn: "What Al Jazeera has done is achieve something that all of us, I think, want to achieve, and that is to make a contribution," he says in what appeared to be a speech.

Americans from big cities to small towns then talk about the state of the news media in the United States.

"I think we're getting a lot of what we need, but there's always more news out there," one woman said. None of those interviewed use the words Al Jazeera in their comments.

"If you talk about the mass media, such as TV and print papers, the mainstream, I think it's abysmal," a man in a National Rifle Association cap says. "It's not real coverage; it's plain and simple opinion and brainwashing."

And, as the network went to its first commercial break, two boxers pummeled each other in the face in a spot for a razor blade "for sensitive skin."

Reuters contributed to this report.


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