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USA Today article about Al-Jazeera's new US channel quotes PMW director Itamar Marcus

Michele Chabin  |

How will Al Jazeera translate in USA?

by Michele Chabin

Stan Collender, a spokesman for Al Jazeera, insisted that the new channel "will offer straightforward, in-depth journalism." Others are not so sure.

JERUSALEM — Media watchers in the Middle East say the Arabic news network Al Jazeera is well known for promoting radical Islamist causes overseas, but it remains to be seen how it will present the news on its newly purchased U.S. cable channel.

Itamar Marcus, director of Palestinian Media Watch, an Israeli research institute that studies Palestinian society and the Arab world through their media and educational materials, said there is "a big difference" between Al Jazeera's Arabic programming and its international English-language broadcasts.

"The Arab broadcasts very often promote a very radical Islamist approach," said Marcus.

"What's brilliant," Marcus said, is the way the company "binds this in with all the latest technology and even occasionally interviews with differing opinions, including Israeli leaders." This creates a "perception" of balanced reporting, Marcus said, "but in fact, the overall underlying agenda is very radical."

Daoud Kuttab, the Jordan-based director of the Community Media Network, a Middle East media group, said Al Jazeera's Arabic-language programming "is very different" from its English counterpart.

The tone of the English broadcasts "is much calmer, and the diversity of its reporters and anchors make it a much more international media outlet than an Arabic one."

Asked if Al Jazeera takes sides, Kuttab said it "tries to represent the Arab point of view, just as NBC presents an American point of view when reporting from Afghanistan." ...

Stan Collender, a spokesman for Al Jazeera, insisted that the new channel "will offer straightforward, in-depth journalism." Others are not so sure.

"There are two Al Jazeeras: one Arabic, one English," agreed Khaled Abu Toameh, a Jerusalem-based Arab journalist who closely follows media in the Arab world.

"The one in English is relatively good. I'd call it real journalism," Abu Toameh said. "The one in Arabic started off as a good TV station that brought something new to the Arab world" as an alternative to state-run media.

In recent years, he said there is a feeling among many Arabs and Muslims "that it is serving as a platform for the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamic organizations." ...

Although it is too soon to know what kind of broadcasts Al Jazeera will deliver in the U.S., Marcus said, "it will be very careful how it slips its radical agenda" into its coverage.

"We can be sure it will be there and that it will be subtle," he said.

Kuttab agreed that the Arabic version of Al Jazeera "has more spin" because he said it is appealing to an Arab audience.

"Does it have a bias? Yes, but that's true of every other media in the world," he said.

Viewers of the new U.S. broadcasts can expect "a different priority" and "emphasis" than what they're used to.

"They can expect the humanization of the Arab world rather than a mere dealing with Arabs as numbers or pawns in a political game," Kuttab said.

Abu Toameh believes that American viewers can expect "relatively fair coverage" of world events.

"Al Jazeera cannot try to sell the goods they're selling in the Arab world to Westerners."