Al Jazeera English looks at news through a different lens
The 20-month-old channel expands its global audience but barely penetrates US market.
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After Mr. Marash's departure, Jeremy Young, a producer here, started to ask himself whether AJE's reporting could be considered anti-American. His conclusion: "The reason why I might have seen a story as being anti-American was because someone from a different country was [reporting] it." On the documentary-style news show "Inside USA," Mr. Young works with producers from New Zealand and Colombia. The on-air reporter is Canadian. "The network is still pretty young – it will continue to find its voice editorially," he says.Skip to next paragraph
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Stebbins dismisses the criticism that AJE takes an adversarial tone in its coverage of America. "What Al Jazeera certainly tries to do is reflect back to the US the effect of US policy overseas ... to actually hear people who are on the sharp end of US policy," he says.
Stebbins is frustrated that AJE isn't widely available in the US. What footprint the channel does have is largely online: Its Web page draws most of its traffic from North America.
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One viewer AJE has managed to capture is the State Department. US officials know the importance of trying to shape America's image abroad. "We will never say 'no' to their interview requests," says David Foley, a spokesperson for the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. "We see it as extremely important," in part because it has an audience in the Middle East.
Mr. Foley appears regularly on AJE and knows what to expect from their interviewers. "They're much more personal and edgy in their questions" than American networks, he says, citing a recent exchange with AJE anchor Shihab Rattansi, who asked him: So, Mr. Foley, aren't you really impotent in the Middle East?
"That's not the sort of question you're going to get on CNN," Foley says.
Mr. Rattansi, a former CNN International anchor who was born in Britain, says AJE's interviews are meant to bring "power to account." "I certainly do not believe in a fun, theatrical knockabout for the sake of a nice bit of television," he says in an e-mail. "Contradictions in policy need to be pointed out; and occasionally, outrage does need to be expressed."
AJE does have its defenders. In Burlington, the publicly owned cable company recently considered dropping the channel after receiving complaints from local viewers. But many others expressed support at a series of community forums – and the company kept it.
Some AJE competitors have taken note, too. NBC News Middle East Correspondent Richard Engel says in an e-mail that the channel "is getting better," though he notes that the quality of their reports is still "inconsistent."
Stebbins, for his part, is adamant that AJE will survive. "We know there's an audience out there, and we'll get to them someday," he says.