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Sunday, January 30, 2005

Under pressure, Qatar may sell Al Jazeera station

Since my first trip to the Al Jazeera headquarters in July 2004, I'm convinced that the future of the TV station will impact the whole Arab media landscape: Al Jazeera has introduced something new in the news gathering process and it will be very difficult to go backwards. Al Arabiya has already changed its coverage of Arab news - in the sense that it is more conventional - and it could happen to Al Jazeera according to this New York Times article: "Bush administration officials have complained heatedly to Qatari leaders that Al Jazeera's broadcasts have been inflammatory, misleading and occasionally false, especially on Iraq. The pressure has been so intense, a senior Qatari official said, that the government is accelerating plans to put Al Jazeera on the market, though Bush administration officials counter that a privately owned station in the region may be no better from their point of view. "We have recently added new members to the Al Jazeera editorial board, and one of their tasks is to explore the best way to sell it," said the Qatari official, who said he could be more candid about the situation if he was not identified. "We really have a headache, not just from the United States but from advertisers and from other countries as well." Asked if the sale might dilute Al Jazeera's content, the official said, "I hope not."

Estimates of Al Jazeera's audience range from 30 million to 50 million, putting it well ahead of its competitors. But that success does not translate into profitability, and the station relies on a big subsidy from the Qatari government, which in the past has explored ways to sell it. The official said Qatar hoped to find a buyer within a year...
A recent decree from the emir of Qatar, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani, said Al Jazeera would be converted to a privately owned "company of participation," which Mr. Jihad Ballout, the station spokesman, said would most likely be owned by shareholders in the Arab world. But little has happened since then, and now new people have been put on the board to facilitate its sale.

Mr. Sheikh said that Al Jazeera's budget last year was $120 million, including a subsidy of $40 million or $50 million from Qatar. Mr. Ballout said one reason for the shortfall was that businesses were afraid to advertise because of criticism they might get from Arab governments and the United States."

Source: New York Times

Posted by Bertrand Pecquerie on January 30, 2005 at 08:10 PM in b. Alliances and partnerships, o. Ethics and Press Freedom, q. Regional and ethnic newspapers | Permalink

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