Muslim news and views coming to a channel near you

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When the World Trade Center was attacked almost two years ago, it changed some aspects of the media almost immediately. News tickers began running across the bottom of TV screens, quickly becoming a permanent fixture on many channels, for example.

But other changes are just now kicking in, including some growth in the number of new outlets offering information about the Middle East and Persian Gulf, and the practices of Muslims.

Americans are notoriously fickle about news of the world, tending to gravitate toward it primarily when their own interests are at stake - as has been the case in Afghanistan and Iraq in recent months. But media newcomers say the time is right to offer more information to Americans who are trying to better understand events and cultures on the other side of the globe. How long these ventures survive - or if they even get off the ground - may offer more insight into how interested Americans truly are.

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One of the newcomers is Muzzammil Hassan. The Buffalo businessman is trying to launch Bridges TV, a lifestyle channel targeted at American Muslims - but also hopes to educate others who are curious about Muslim culture.

"The idea is to build bridges both within the community and with non-Muslim mainstream America," he says. "There definitely appears to be a significant secondary market of non-Muslim Americans who are just extremely curious about Islam and Muslim cultures."

Mr. Hassan is conducting a membership drive to show satellite and cable operators that there will be an audience for the channel. He hopes to launch it within a year of attracting 10,000 members; just over 2,000 people have signed up since April.

An ad on the website (www.bridges.tv) entices new members: "10 percent of fatalities on 9/11 were American Muslims. Did CNN tell you that? What about Fox News?"

Bridges TV will focus on programming for all Muslims - not just those in a particular ethnic community. Cultural and entertainment fare will make up the majority of the programming, with some religious and news coverage.

Hassan anticipates addressing issues that are unique to American Muslims. Around Halloween, for example, a public affairs program or a sitcom might deal with reconciling the desire of Muslim children to trick-or-treat with the admonition by Islamic Sunday school teachers that the holiday is pagan.

If Hassan is aiming to reach Americans with the airwaves, Jim McQueeny wants to get them via the Internet, where more people have turned for information on the Middle East and Gulf since 9/11.

Mr. McQueeny is the managing editor of a website that debuted in March called the Mideast News Service (www.mnsnews.org). The idea behind the site is to give average Americans access to a plurality of voices on the Middle East - to show more about the people and daily life in the region, beyond what McQueeny calls cliched images of "stones and tanks."

The site, available since March, is short on analysis, but includes stories from the Associated Press, links to the websites of other newspapers, and a list of organizations that concentrate on the Middle East. It also features original video clips from interviews done for the site with people in the region - from shopkeepers to politicians.

"We look at Arabic-sourced news operations, blend that with Israeli, blend that with US, and blend that with the BBC," says McQueeny. "It really is almost the soup of the day..., taste-tested for fairness."

Bankrolled by the foundation of late businessman and philanthropist Russell Berrie, the site receives about 250,000 hits a month. Says McQueeny, "we get as much criticism as we get praise."

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