Al Jazeera US launch imminent, says London bureau chief

Al Jazeera English will launch on an American network within the next six months, according to its London bureau chief.

Sue Phillips said the channel – which is currently only available online in the US through link-ups including a deal with YouTube – is overcoming misinterpretations about its agenda that earned it ‘the terrorist channel’label.

‘The climate has changed in the US,’she said. ‘We’re almost confident in saying we should be on a platform in the States within the next six months.

‘There’s much more of an understanding now about Al Jazeera. The Americans are warming to us.”

Speaking as the 24-hour news channel celebrated its first anniversary this week, Phillips, former bureau chief for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, also tackled critics who claimed it practices self-censorship in Qatar because it is financed by the country’s ruler.

‘As for the amir and censorship – it doesn’t really apply. All over the world governments or individuals fund broadcasters like ourselves. I think there’s less of a chance of that [censorship] happening with ourselves,’said Phillips.

‘In our situation, Qatar is a very tiny country and, in all honesty and with no disrespect to Qatar, there’s not a lot that goes on there in terms of world politics where any form of censorship could really apply. And we do stories in Qatar as well as everywhere else.”

She added: ‘With the amount of solid journalists at Al Jazeera English – if that were to happen – they wouldn’t stay.”

Phillips said the ultimate aim was for Al Jazeera English to fund itself through subscriptions and advertising.

Al Jazeera English was launched on 15 November last year with a number of big name presenters on its roster, including Sir David Frost and Rageh Omaar.

The Amir of Qatar is the funder of the entire Al Jazeera network – it was his idea to launch the first English-speaking network based in the Middle East.

The channel launched with three main broadcast centres, in Kuala Lumpur, London and Washington, to supplement its central hub in the Qatar capital Doha.

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. A distribution deal in India is understood to be in the pipeline.

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