Al-Jazeera English Goes Live

Tarmizi Ibrahim is sihouetted against a television screen as he watches the Al-Jazeera English news service, launched at 1200 GMT, in Kuala Lumpur, 15 November 2006. AFP PHOTO/TENGKU BAHAR (Photo credit should read TENGKU BAHAR/AFP/Getty Images)
AFP/Getty Images
Ten years after starting Arabic-language broadcasts that angered leaders in the region and Washington, Al-Jazeera on Wednesday launched an English-language news channel available in more than 80 million homes but lacking major U.S. distribution.

Al-Jazeera English went on the air at 3 p.m. (8 a.m. EST), broadcasting from the station's headquarters in Doha, capital of the tiny Persian Gulf state of Qatar.

A screen graphic with a clock ticking down the minutes gave way to a photo montage of the biggest news stories of the past decade and an announcer saying the new channel would be "setting the news agenda."

"It's Nov. 15th, a new era in television news," its anchor said.

The channel quickly jumped to live feeds from correspondents in various regions — starting with the Gaza Strip in a spot that reflected the channel's promise to Arab concerns in the Middle East.

The station reported on a rocket attack by Palestinian militants that killed an Israeli woman — then cut to its Gaza correspondent reporting on the aftermath of Israel's shelling of the Gaza town of Beit Hanoun that killed 18 Palestinians earlier this week.

The video showed pancaked apartment blocks and a scarred baby lying a hospital bed after being wounded in the Israeli attack. The correspondent did her standup in front of a destroyed home. It was followed by a clip from an interview with Hamas leader Khaled Mishaal.

With its flashy new sets, with stars like David Frost, and with reporters stationed around the world — Gaza Strip, Darfur, Tehran, Zimbabwe — Al Jazeera hopes to own global news in English the same way it owns the market in Arabic, reports CBS News national correspondent Wyatt Andrews.

Al-Jazeera, which is bankrolled by Qatar's royal family, said its signal would reach 80 million households with cable and satellite TV, mainly in the Middle East and Europe. It hopes to steal viewers from CNN and the British Broadcasting Corp. by giving the world's 1 billion English speakers news from a non-Western perspective.

Al-Jazeera's feisty Arabic news channel is well known for angering leaders in the West and the Arab world, where it has been banned from operating in 18 countries at various times. Four Arab nations still bar its reporters.

The station has broken new ground covering once-taboo political, religious and social subjects, while airing interviews with opposition figures and Israeli officials who previously were absent from other Arab networks.

Bush administration officials have branded the network's airing of messages from Osama bin Laden as an incitement to terrorism and criticized its often graphic coverage of bloodshed in Iraq.