Al Jazeera English Knocks on America's Door

20 May 2008

DOHA, Qatar: Al Jazeera English, the 24-hour English-language news and current affairs TV channel, is planning to extend its reach into the hinterland of the United States.

Tony Burman, appointed last week as AJE's new managing director, sees making the channel available to US viewers as his main priority. He faces an uphill struggle.

Among the plethora of US cable and satellite stations, the attitude toward Al Jazeera ranges from caution to outright hostility – some of the more reactionary factions seeing it as a platform for Osama bin Laden and his allies.

To all intents, the channel is banned stateside, other than on the web video service YouTube.

Says Burman, a former editor-in-chief of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation: "The idea that certain channels would effectively be banned is medieval."

In the hope of appealing to US operators and audiences, Burman aims to make Al Jazeera English more appealing by increasing coverage of American news, particularly in the run-up to the presidential election in November. 

It also plans to invest in new bureaus; it already shares over sixty bureaus with its Arabic sibling. And Burman plans "more provocative" current affairs programming and investigative journalism.

"Our goal is to go in the opposite direction to so many other news organizations which are, sadly, cutting back on their coverage of the world," Burman says. He also insists that AJE will maintain a separate identity to that of its Arabic-language sister channel.

"The reality is that Al Jazeera and Al Jazeera English are two different channels that cater to different audiences."

AJE also announced an extension to its coverage in markets as diverse as Portugal, Ukraine and Vietnam, increasing its potential audience to 110 million homes.

Data sourced from New York Times; additional content by WARC staff