Apr 17, 2007

Everybody Likes Arabs

Al-Jazeera's English language television has in its six-month existence gained strong viewership across Europe, in parts of Asia, Australia -- and even Israel, according to executives and local companies that carry it.

But no major cable or satellite provider in the U.S. is carrying the channel, a decision the network blames on political pressure. U.S. carriers, however, say there is simply no market.

Nearly 100 million households worldwide receive Al-Jazeera's English service, almost half as many as CNN, station executives say. Since January, it has been broadcasting news to 550,000 Israeli homes on Yes TV, the country's largest cable provider.

"It's extraordinary that while the rest of the world is happy to watch us ... the U.S. stands in splendid isolation," said Al-Jazeera English managing director Nigel Parsons at the station's headquarters in the Persian Gulf state of Qatar.

Station executives said they expected a dogged battle for American airwaves because Al-Jazeera's Arabic channel has been excoriated by the Bush administration as a mouthpiece for terrorists, including al Qaida's Osama bin Laden.

Still, No. 1 U.S. cable provider Comcast Corp. ,was ready to carry Al-Jazeera English's November debut in the Detroit area, Al-Jazeera executives said.

But Comcast suddenly pulled out just before launch, Parsons said. He and Wadah Khanfar, managing director of Al-Jazeera Arabic, believed the decision was spurred by U.S. political opposition.

"We suspect there was outside pressure, including of a political nature," Parsons said. But he noted he had no evidence of such pressure, and did not know whether pressure came from the U.S. government, elected officials or lobby groups.

No comments: