| ASPEN/NEW YORK, June 28
ASPEN/NEW YORK, June 28 Al Jazeera America has
hired hundreds of journalists and finalized parts of its
programming schedule, as it moves ahead with its plan to create
a mainstream U.S. cable news channel that aims to compete with
dominant networks like CNN and Fox.
The network, with headquarters in New York City, has already
hired about 650 employees in the United States as it gears up
for a late-August launch, said Ehab Al Shihabi, the executive
director of international operations.
The network will focus on regional and local U.S.-based
investigative journalism for its U.S. programming. It will
feature a flagship two-hour long news program between 7 and 9
p.m., Al Shihabi told an audience at the Aspen Ideas Festival.
Al Jazeera may face an uphill battle in attracting a loyal
U.S. audience, given that it is under the patronage of the
government of Qatar. It will at first be available in only 49
million U.S. households - about half of the reach of CNN.
Al Jazeera, which has a separate English service called
Al-Jazeera English, already available in the United States, has
been trying to break into the U.S. cable market for a number of
years, but it has so far failed to get significant traction.
Many U.S. consumers remember that Al Jazeera gained world
notoriety when it aired videos of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin
Laden's speeches during the early 2000s, and had been viewed by
many as being anti-American - particularly at the height of the
Al Shihabi acknowledged that there may be a perception
problem among consumers of Al Jazeera being a controversial news
channel but dismissed the challenge as one of the issues faced
by any startup channel. He said the network's programming will
dispel any doubts about the quality of content or any perceived
political bias and that a head of U.S. operations will be
He called Al Jazeera America a "serious investment," without
specifying an exact amount. He added the network will focus on
investigative journalism, which they expect will give it a
As part of its investment in the U.S,. Al Jazeera bought Al
Gore's Current TV earlier this year to allow it to compete with
U.S. news networks like CNN, MSNBC and Fox News. Terms were
undisclosed, but analysts estimated the deal could be worth as
much as $500 million.
Al Jazeera plans to have 8 minutes of commercials in an
hour, which is lower than the industry standard of 14-16
minutes, Al Shihabi said, adding that the network will launch
with 12 bureaus in the United States. Al Jazeera is planning
bureaus in major cities such as Washington, D.C., Los Angeles,
Miami and Chicago.
The network's model is based on the one followed by the BBC,
which is U.K. state funded but independently operated, Al