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Will serious reporting draw viewers to Al Jazeera America?

August 20, 2013

By offering 14 hours of straight news every day, hard-hitting documentaries, correspondents stationed in often-overlooked parts of the United States and fewer commercials than any other news channel, Al Jazeera America is contravening every trend in television news, The New York Times reports.

The new channel, backed by leaders of the oil-rich Middle Eastern emirate of Qatar, will join cable and satellite lineups this afternoon, starting in about 48 million of the roughly 100 million U.S. homes that subscribe to television.

“Viewers will see a news channel unlike the others, as our programming proves Al Jazeera America will air fact-based, unbiased and in-depth news,” says Ehab Al Shihabi, the channel’s acting chief executive. Compared to other cable news channels, “There will be less opinion, less yelling and fewer celebrity sightings.” Anchors will include faces familiar to viewers of national newscasts in the United States, such as John Seigenthaler, who anchored weekend editions of “NBC Nightly News” until 2007.

But the Al Jazeera name still arouses deep suspicion in some Americans. In the period immediately after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Al Jazeera’s overseas channels broadcast messages from Osama bin Laden and were demonized by Bush administration officials as anti-American. Some big sponsors appear skittish about Al Jazeera America, but the channel is casting its lower commercial load as a perk for viewers.  — Greg Beaubien


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