Advertisers Shun Al Jazeera as Businesses Remember Network's Ties

Monday, 19 Aug 2013 03:31 PM

By Michael Mullins

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National advertisers are reportedly shunning Al Jazeera America, the domestic offshoot of the Pan-Arab news channel that is set to make its debut Tuesday and will be available in some 48 million U.S. households.

The soon-to-be cable news network will have just six minutes of commercial time per hour, whereas most cable news channels have double that, the New York Post reported.

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And the six minutes of advertising is primarily in-house promos and local ad spots.

Why the hesitance?

Apparently national advertisers are wary of being associated with a brand that in the past has been perceived as anti-American. The network was critical in its coverage of Operation Iraqi Freedom and has aired messages from deceased al-Qaida terror leaded Osama Bin Laden.

"I wouldn’t give them a dime, especially since we are in New York," one anonymous advertiser told the New York Post. "They’re owned by an Arab country and they ran the [Osama] bin Laden tapes. I just wouldn’t trust them."

The network is owned by members of the royal family of House of Thani, who rule the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar and have a net worth of $60 billion, earned primarily from their oil business.

"It’s hard to sell it to an American buyer," another ad agency buyer told the New York Post. "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."

Another ad buyer encountered similar problems.

"We totally tried to talk our client into doing it, but they are very conservative. ... It’s going to be a big problem for a lot of people," they told Adweek.com.

An Al Jazeera America spokesman attempted to shed positive light on the ordeal.

"[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."

Acknowledging that 75 percent of people who have yet to watch Al Jazeera already have an unfavorable opinion of it, interim CEO Ehab Al Shihabi said that 90 percent of Americans who have watched the network said they liked it, AdWeek.com reported.

Al Shihabi said the network plans to counter what he described as negative misperceptions about the network.

"We have engaged in a lot of dialogue [about] our mission, vision and journalistic identity," he told Adweek. "We have met a lot of key influential leaders … and with most of the agencies."

With bureaus located in 12 major U.S. cities and an international network of news correspondents, Al Jazeera America will have 900 employees, of which 400 will be newsroom employees, The New York Times reported.

"Viewers will see a news channel unlike the others, as our programming proves Al Jazeera America will air fact-based, unbiased and in-depth news," said Shihabi said on a news conference call last week.

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Despite being owned by the government of Qatar, the personalities who will be relaying the news from Al Jazeera America will be familiar to U.S. audiences.

The well-known news personalities will include: former CNN anchor Soledad O'Brien, who signed up to be a special correspondent for Al Jazeera America in July; NBC news veteran John Seigenthaler, who will be a news anchor during the network’s prime-time hour, and Emmy Award-winning journalist Sheila MacVicar, among others.

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