WASHINGTON: No longer content just being "The Arab CNN," the Al Jazeera news network is taking steps toward becoming a major force on the American media scene.
Already claiming more than 135,000 subscribers in America, the Qatar-based network, which gained international notoriety for its post-September 11 coverage, has begun beefing up its Washington editorial staff, providing English subtitles for many of its programs, and including English translations of network transcripts on its website. Within the next year or so, producers hope to debut English-language shows tailored specifically to American audiences.
The long-term goal, according to Al Jazeera executives, is to carve a niche into the American media landscape by providing a point of view that often goes unrepresented here.
"The whole idea of English-language programming came to us after 9/11, when we were fielding an average of 60 calls a day from American viewers wanting to know what Al Jazeera was saying," explained producer Imad Musa.
"We have the same journalistic standards as anyone, but we have different priorities, perhaps, and we can cover stories the American media can't always get."
Indeed, the network made its name in the past year largely by airing tapes provided by Al Qaeda operatives and showing the civilian impact of American military action in Afghanistan.
Washington PR professionals representing Arab interests welcomed the news of an American Al Jazeera presence. "It is a positive for us because our point of view will have a forum and a way to reach American audiences," said Alaa Boymi, director of Arabic affairs at the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Qorvis founder Michael Petruzzello, much in the news lately for his firm's work on behalf of the royal family of Saudi Arabia, predicted success for the network. "They certainly have a following in the Middle East, and they've been very successful in the UK and Europe, and they appear to have a successful model in particular when it comes to their news talk programs," he observed. "If they follow that model, they'll find an audience here."