Al Jazeera English 'doesn't want to follow the pack'

Al Jazeera's long-awaited English language rolling news channel, which launched on Wednesday, is determined not to "follow the pack" but set its own news agenda, according to London bureau chief Sue Phillips She said: "If the rest of the world was leading on a Tony Blair speech or an opening of parliament, the channel might decide to lead with a story from Africa or from Japan."

Defending the decision not to go big on the Japan tsunami threat on Wednesday afternoon, Phillips said that the decision was taken "in a similar way to lots of organisations". "We react like most news organisations," she said. "But one of the differences with Al Jazeera is that we have incredible freedom and vast resources around the world that we can decide what stories to go with and not simply follow the pack."

Al Jazeera English has a team of more than 700 staff working in 18 bureaux worldwide in addition to the Al Jazeera network's 40-plus bureaux. The channel is broadcast in English around the world including New Zealand and Latin America and will be broadcast from centres in Doha, Kuala Lumpur, Washington DC and London.

"We have got to have a truly global perspective on everything we air on the news," said Phillips, who added that the channel considered itself an alternative to the BBC. "We will cover more stories in the developing world and the unreported world. We've got resources to allow us to do that."

As the first English-speaking global network to be based in the Middle East, around 30 to 50 per cent of its coverage would be from there, said Phillips.

Phillips, former bureau chief for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, was confident that there was room for another channel in the UK, despite the failure of the ITV News channel to survive up against the BBC, Sky News and CNN.

"If you just look at the first two and a half hours we have been on air, that is alternative. There was a documentary on Liberia that most viewers haven't seen before. That's fascinating, interesting, that's the reason people will turn to us, for live news. That is the alternative that viewers will want to see."

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