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Al Jazeera Expanding American News Coverage

Sunday, 26 May 2013 08:40 PM

By Greg Richter

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The upcoming Al Jazeera America cable channel has ditched its plan to have 60 percent of its programming originate in the United States. Now, that figure will be 100 percent, The New York Times reports.

The Middle East-based news channel that is seen in most of the world bought Al Gore's Current TV in January in an effort to get into the U.S. market. Al Jazeera has Arabic and English versions, but cable companies in the United States have refused to carry it.

Critics, including the U.S. government, have accused the Qatar-based station of broadcasting terrorist propaganda, including tapes released by Osama bin Ladin. Others have said the stations are a mouthpiece for the Qatar government.

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But Al Jazeera officials say they want only to provide an alternative news source for what they say is an underserved American audience. They have hired employees from CNN, Time magazine and other American news agencies and have promised to set up bureaus in cities such as Detroit, where there is a concentration of immigrants from Arabic countries.

Al Jazeera has hired public relations firms to combat the flak they still are receiving in America. They have had to delay the launch of the channel from July to August already, and many of its own employees expect it will be delayed again.

Part of the change to 100 percent American programming is based on competitiveness, The Times reports. "You can’t just plug in someone else’s international news," to get viewers to switch from CNN or MSNBC, one employee told The Times.

Even so, with bureaus worldwide, Al Jazeera America will be able to go quickly to stories anywhere on the globe, an advantage it sees over American-based news organizations that have been cutting back over the past few years rather than expanding as it is.

But in addition to finding cable and satellite companies to carry the channel, Al Jazeera America faces another obstacle: finding someone to run it. It still doesn't have a president or slate of vice presidents for its American version.

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