Coming to a screen near you: Al Jazeera in English.
The Arabic-language news network, notorious for broadcasting the statements of Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda colleagues, plans to open an English-language website in early 2003 and begin distributing English-language news programming by satellite and cable late next year.
Since it began broadcasting in 1996, Al Jazeera has brought unprecedented Arabic-language journalistic scrutiny to the regimes of the Middle East. Now its executives and journalists say they want to provide English speakers in the US and elsewhere with more accurate and informed reporting about the world's most turbulent region.
Headquartered in this small, wealthy Persian Gulf kingdom, Al Jazeera has won American praise for raising media standards in the Arab world, where virtually all news outlets operate under some form of government control. In efforts to address the Arab world directly, Secretary of State Colin Powell and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld have granted the channel interviews since Sept. 11, 2001. In mid-December, during a visit to Doha, Mr. Rumsfeld scheduled another interview with the channel, but pulled out following a testy exchange with an Al Jazeera reporter at a press conference.
Al Jazeera, says Kenton Keith, a former US ambassador to Qatar, "no more than other news organizations, has a slant. Its slant happens to be one most Americans are not comfortable with.... But the fact is that Al Jazeera has revolutionized media in the Middle East.
"For the long-range importance of press freedom in the Middle East and the advantages that will ultimately have for the West, you have to be a supporter of Al Jazeera, even if you have to hold your nose sometimes."
Oddly enough, Al Jazeera's journalists face severe restrictions in several Middle East countries that are considered allies of the US. Saudi Arabia, one of the US government's leading partners in the region, has never allowed Al Jazeera to open an office; Bahrain, where the US Navy's Fifth Fleet is based, has banned the network's journalists from visiting.