Al Jazeera steps up global news offering

Whether it is busy grabbing the inside scoop on the recent Gaza conflict, or having its Baghdad studio 'accidentally' bombed by American troops (in 2003), Qatar-based Al Jazeera is a news channel with a difference.

Presenting Al Jazeera English from the London studio
Presenting Al Jazeera English from the London studio

Now, its English language sister channel, which was born in 2006, has its sights set on winning over the UK. It recently teamed up with The Independent to offer video streaming of its English-language news bulletins on the newspaper’s website.

Already known as the def­initive voice on Middle Eastern news, Al Jazeera English has taken steps to boost its global news coverage, broadcasting from Doha, London, Kuala Lumpur and Washington DC.

‘The Middle East is always the most important story for Al Jazeera – that is what people turn to the channel for,’ exp­lains news editor Ben Rayner. ‘But we cover every type of story if we deem it newsworthy.’

For agencies, it is important to note coverage is influenced by, rather than solely limited to, the Islamic community. ‘The reality is it covers a wide range of mainstream iss­ues from an Isl­amic perspective,’ says Mark Fuller, consultant at Linstock Communications. ‘It deals with hard news on a global scale.’

Global audience

Accordingly, agencies need to pitch stories that combine a global audience with a unique angle that can grab the interest of the Islamic community. ‘In my experience this means putting local iss­ues in an international context,’ advises Fuller. ‘Islam stretches across national boundaries, so an audience in one country will be interested in stories that acknowledge overseas links.’

Specialist coverage takes the form of shows such as Sir David Frost’s Frost Over the World and Rageh Omaar’s Witness. The focus on the developing world, says Rayner, means there is little of the ‘diet of crime and celebrity that has crept into other TV news’.

This can create specific opp­ortunities. The listing of BankMuscat’s Global Depository Receipts on the main market of the London Stock Exchange was deemed ‘small-fry’ by the UK business media, says Burson-Marsteller corporate, issues and tech MD Bill Royce.

‘I pitched to Mina Harbalou, the business correspondent in Al Jazeera’s London bureau,’ adds Royce. ‘They got the significance of the story much better.’

Know who to pitch to

The sheer size of the organisation, which employs 1,000 staff, can be daunting. Former Al Jazeera English producer Oliver Druttman, now an acc­ount executive at Burson-Marsteller, advises going to the news desk for press releases that require immediate action. ‘If it is regarding anything in the future, speak to the planning desk.’

Pitching Middle East-related spokespeople, such as the chairman of BankMuscat on the day of its listings launch, is another way in. Most importantly, adds Fuller, maintain relationships. ‘The breadth of issues Al Jazeera covers means they are always after expert commentators, and unlike Sky and the BBC they do not rely on the same old faces.

‘The opportunity to reach such a vast audience is well worth the effort of cultivating links with producers and bookers.’

Viewers Reaches 80 million homes (source: Al Jazeera)

Channel Sky Digital 514


News editor Ben Rayner


A minute with... Ben Rayner, news editor, Al Jazeera English

Ben RaynerWho watches Al Jazeera English?
We do not aim for one demographic. We are aimed at anyone who wants a different take on world news and a questioning attitude to power. We are unlike other news channels, such as CNN, which is aimed at business people watching in hotels. Our rivals are websites as well as CNN and BBC World these days.

Explain your position during the recent conflict in Gaza

We had two reporters in Gaza throughout the war and teams in Israel too, so we were the only broadcaster able to give a balanced picture.

What sort of stories would you like agencies to pitch to you?

Stories from parts of the world that are not covered by other channels. We are currently investing resources and air-time into parts of the world largely ignored by other people, such as Africa, Latin America and the Far East.

What is the best way to pitch to Al Jazeera?
Email our interview producers or our planning departments first, rather than phoning.

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