Al Jazeera struggles to conquer US

The new English-language version of Al Jazeera has received the cold shoulder in the US. Despite almost a year-long campaign, hardly any cable networks or TV outlets have signed up to carry the service.

Just about the only viewers or listeners able to tune in are those who have high-speed internet. One reason for the lack of interest could be the continuing criticism of Al Jazeera and accusations that it has links with terrorism. Some US officials, including former defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, went so far as to accuse the parent news service of purveying "vicious lies" in its coverage of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Worse, many officials still regard Al Jazeera — including its English language spin-off — as anti-American and a "mouthpiece" for Osama bin Laden.

The failure to make a wide impact in the US is disappointing to top journalists and executives — some 500 altogether — who have signed up to work for the new network, notably David Marash, a former veteran ABC News correspondent, who will be the number one anchor in the new Washington studios.

"Of course you want to play to your home crowd if you can," Marash told the New York Sun. But he said he believed the problem would be rectified in time — when more people get a chance to watch it they will change their feelings. The new round-the-clock network, financed largely by the family of the leader of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, has spent a lot of money — one report suggested at least $1,000 million — on new state-of-the art equipment in Kuala Lumpur, Doha, London and Washington.

The channel boasts an impressive line-up of western reporters including Rageh Omaar, Darren Jordan and former CNN international reporter Riz Khan, who hosts one of only two daily broadcasts from Washington. Another noted journalist who has joined the team is David Frost, who scored a scoop for the channel with his interview with Tony Blair.

Accuracy in Media, the ultra-conservative journalistic watchdog, this week "inducted" David Frost, Dave Marash and others into what it has dubbed its "Hall of Shame".

At the same time, it released a mini-documentary with photographs and biographical information about dozens of Al Jazeera journalists, including many who previously worked for CNN, the BBC and ITN. It has called on the US government to look into the national security implications of the new American service — particularly how it could be used to promote "incendiary anti-American messages" among Muslims and Arabs living in the US.

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