Al Jazeera fights 'myths' in North American push

NEW YORK Tue Feb 17, 2009 7:14pm EST

NEW YORK Feb 17 (Reuters) - Al Jazeera is starting a public relations campaign to dispel what it calls myths and misperceptions that have prevented it from reaching more U.S. and Canadian viewers, the international television news network said on Tuesday.

Al Jazeera's English-language service is starting a website called IWantAJE.net, offering news the Qatar-based network produces and a list of "Hits and Myths" knocking down statements about the network that it says are untrue.

It is launching a similar site for Canadians, IWantAJE.ca, as it prepares to seek permission from the Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission in Canada to offer its service through cable and satellite providers there.

The websites will ask people to e-mail to their cable and satellite providers asking them to carry the channel. Viewers can also watch the channel live on the website and read bulletins with the day's top stories.

Along with the website, Al Jazeera said it would buy print and online advertisements in newspapers such as the Globe & Mail in Toronto, The New York Times (NYT.N), and the Huffington Post. It follows a campaign that ran last month in the Times, The Washington Post WPO.N, Foreign Policy and Politico.com.

Al Jazeera, whose Arabic-language channel is available in the United States through the DISH (DISH.O) satellite TV network, is available in English through a small number of cable operators in the United States. Worldwide, about 130 million households have access to the site.

Al Jazeera has said that gaining access in the United States has been hampered by what it calls misperceptions that it supports al Qaeda and its leader Osama bin Laden, that it is anti-Semitic and anti-American, that it shows beheadings, and that it has an anti-Western agenda.

"We don't wear horns. Osama bin Laden does not have a weekly interview show," said Tony Burman, managing director of Al Jazeera English and former editor in chief at the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

When former U.S. Marine Corps Captain Josh Rushing, now a reporter for Al Jazeera, went with a TV crew to Golden, Colorado, to cover the Democratic presidential convention last year, Al Jazeera's presence sparked protests from local motorcycle gangs.

"People who have never watched it have a super-strong opinion about this thing they've never seen and don't want it on their airwaves," Rushing said.

Nonetheless, Al Jazeera English is close to announcing a deal with a major cable provider, Burman said, but he declined to name the company because the talks are ongoing. (Reporting by Robert MacMillan)

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