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Al-Jazeera English Goes Worldwide

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While the launch of Al-Jazeera English – the English-language sister network to Al Jazeera – isn't getting any major U.S. satellite cable distribution, Americans can read plenty about its launch within American newspapers this week. In addition to the fact that it has no major US television distribution, there's one more element of the new venture that's getting traction -- the gap that Al-Jazeera is trying to fill. It's one that many a media critic has griped about in American television news: a lack of foreign news coverage.

Former CBS News correspondent Tom Fenton has discussed the matter in detail here on Public Eye. So did Washingtonian Editor-at-Large Garrett Graff. And when we ask CBS News employees in our weekly "10 Plus 1" feature what they think the network could spend more time covering, one of the most common responses is, you guessed it, foreign news.

In its profile of the network, The Los Angeles Times notes an interesting fact: AJE has "more foreign correspondents in world capitals than all the U.S. networks combined."

According to the Washington Post, the network has "positioned many of its 500-plus journalists outside of traditional news centers in Europe and North America, in a necklace of bureaus spanning Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East."

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"We will cover Asia from within Asia, the Middle East from within the Middle East, Europe from within Europe and the Americas from within the Americas," Will Stebbins, AJE's Washington Bureau Chief told the LA Times.

And instead of originating programs only from the traditional hubs – London, New York, Washington, D.C. – AJE will split the day of programming between its bureaus in Washington; London; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and Doha, Qatar.

Of course, the new network has drawn ire from many critics who fear that it will resemble the traditional Al-Jazeera, which has been criticized as a mouthpiece for terrorists and Iraqi insurgents. One industry watcher told the LA Times: "The very name Al Jazeera is a bigger obstacle than most cable networks have at launch."

The Associated Press notes that "the station is burdened with a reputation among Americans as anti-U.S. — an image Al-Jazeera insists is unfair. Its staffers argue that while the station has an Arab viewpoint, its coverage is balanced."

An AJE spokesman told AP that some US cable carriers were taking a "show-me" approach to the fledgling network – gauging reaction before they agree to carry the programming.

While a lack of foreign news coverage on television news channels that are widely available to Americans is a prevailing complaint, it seems yet unclear whether the demand for such content is actually there. If AJE provides it and there is money to be made, then – even as critics of Al-Jazeera continue to voice their concerns – there will certainly be an impetus for cable carriers in broadcasting it. Otherwise, access to AJE does exist elsewhere: you can watch it online on the network's Web site and on several Internet services that broadcast it.

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