New Al Jazeera channel has 'global agenda'

A senior official from the Al Jazeera satellite network, which is set to launch a 24-hour English-language service this spring, is due here in the nex

A senior official from the Al Jazeera satellite network, which is set to launch a 24-hour English-language service this spring, is due here in the next few days for talks with Israeli cable and satellite bosses on adding the new channel to their rosters. Al Jazeera International's managing director Nigel Parsons has told The Jerusalem Post he is "very excited" by the prospect of the English network being available in Israel, and said its coverage would "take everyone's view and perspective into consideration." Israel has criticized the existing Arabic Al Jazeera, which is available in Israeli satellite packages, for referring to suicide bombers as martyrs. US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld claimed that that the network was "perfectly willing to lie to the world" and followed "a pattern of playing propaganda over and over and over again." Just a few days ago, Tayseer Allouni, an Al Jazeera correspondent, was convicted in Spain of assisting al-Qaida operatives in the 2003 Madrid bombings. Parsons was adamant that the new network's goal was to cover all sides of the story. "The existing Al Jazeera caters for an Arabic-speaking, Middle Eastern audience. We have a more global agenda," he said. Parsons said he had hired more than 90 staff members, with over 30 nationalities, for the new network since he was hired last August. "We certainly have Jewish employees," he said. "We have African Americans, North Americans and South Americans." Al Jazeera refused to confirm claims that Jackie Rowland, a former BBC correspondent, has been hired as the head of the network's Israel division. The Post was unable to reach Rowland by press time. The Post did, however, contact one of the new channel's best-known hires, the veteran British television presenter Sir David Frost. Frost is to formally announce Friday that he is joining the network, as is former US marine Josh Rushing, who resigned after serving as the US military spokesman in Iraq. "This is a great adventure, the first and perhaps the only brand-new international TV news network for the 21st century," Frost told the Post in an e-mail, adding that he would continue his work with the BBC. "Most of the television I have done over the years has been aimed at British and American audiences," he said. "This time, while our target is still Britain and America, the excitement is that it is also the 6 billion other inhabitants of the globe." The network, which will have centers in Doha, Qatar; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; London and Washington, sees itself as a competitive alternative to CNN and the BBC. Parsons dismissed the notion that the new Al Jazeera (the name means "the peninsula") would be unable to appeal to a global audience. As for being shown in Israel, he said that "most Arabs had never seen an Israeli before Al Jazeera put them on air," and added that "we are very keen to be a bridge of communication. It is very unhelpful when you have a disagreement and the two sides sit and sulk in their corners." Opposition in the US has been fueled by misconceptions over the existing Al Jazeera, said Parsons, and by carrier operators who have argued that Americans simply aren't interesting in following news. Asked how Al Jazeera International would have covered the pullout from the Gaza Strip, Parsons said, "We would have given equal focus to the Palestinian side. Those were illegal settlements and there was a lot of focus on the anguish of Israel and not a lot of focus on the plight of Palestinians in Gaza. "I think there is a lack of analysis [in coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict]. There is very often not enough effort made to dig down to the human interest side of both sides of the story."