Al Jazeera boss lashes out at US

The head of Al Jazeera’s new English language channel has launched a scathing attack on Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, shortly before the station’s launch in the US. Accusing Rumsfeld of spreading “complete misinformation” about the Doha-based broadcaster, Nigel Parsons said the US defence secretary was out of sync with Washington’s PR efforts abroad.

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By  Richard Agnew Published  November 27, 2005

The head of Al Jazeera’s new English language channel has launched a scathing attack on Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, shortly before the station’s launch in the US. Accusing Rumsfeld of spreading “complete misinformation” about the Doha-based broadcaster, Nigel Parsons said the US defence secretary was out of sync with Washington’s PR efforts abroad. In an interview with Arabian Business, Parsons said: “[Rumsfeld’s] accused the Arabic channel of showing beheadings, which it never has, [and] being a mouthpiece for Osama Bin Laden. Why? Because [it has] shown more than 5000 hours of Bush and less than five hours of Bin Laden. To deny [Bin Laden] is part of the story is self-denial. It’s like saying there were no riots in France.” A spokesperson for the Pentagon declined to comment on the claims, which follow allegations published in the British press last week that the US considered bombing the broadcaster's offices in Doha.It is also not the first time Rumsfeld and Al Jazeera have clashed. In 2004, the defence secretary suggested the channel was receiving tip-offs on impending terror attacks in Iraq — a charge Al Jazeera denied. Rumsfeld was quoted as saying: “Over and over again we’ve seen that Middle Eastern television channel Al Jazeera that seems to have a wonderful way of being Johnny-on-the-spot a little too often for my taste.” The move also comes as Al Jazeera is in talks with American TV networks over the new channel’s launch, which is set for next spring. Doubts have been expressed over its ability to secure a strong US presence, but Parsons said cable, broadband and satellite companies had verbally agreed to deliver the service already. “There has been a flurry of articles recently which have said we are finding it incredibly difficult in the US, which is a complete misquote," he said. “What I said was that the US is unsurprisingly one of the most difficult markets. But we’re confident of having a significant foothold there,” he added. Parsons admitted some US media companies had initially been “openly hostile” to the channel, but said discussions with most networks and the government had been positive. “In the last year, the penny seems to have finally dropped in parts of the US that they are incredibly unpopular — not just in the Middle East but also in Europe, Asia and Africa and Latin America,” he said. “Wherever Bush goes people seem to be throwing bottles and stones at him… [They’re] realising they are actually part of the world community and need to get their message across.” The US is expected to be a major market for Al Jazeera’s news operation, which has yet to turn a profit and remains reliant on subsidies from the Qatar government. Parsons said the new channel’s aim was to reach break-even within three to five years of its launch, but said Al Jazeera’s main revenues would come from elsewhere in the firm. “We’ve got three sports channels, a children’s channel, the Arabic news channel, us and a documentary channel coming," he said. “We are looking to create a significant revenue stream, and we’d love to break even between years three and five, but I’d accept that news channels within a network scenario are loss leaders,” he added. Al Jazeera’s Arabic service has fallen foul of a boycott on advertising by Saudi firms, and Parsons said it was unlikely to be lifted for its English sibling. “I can safely say that as from this moment we have not signed up any Saudi companies and I don’t think we will actually go looking there either,” he said. Parsons also admitted that businesses in the US might shun the channel. “For sure, some people will steer away but once it’s up on air people can understand us and see us and it will change perceptions. The brand of Al Jazeera is actually a fantastic brand. We don’t have to create brand awareness. In many parts of the world it’s a brand that is hugely appreciated and admired and welcomed,” he said. The London-based Daily Mirror reported last week that US president George W. Bush planned to bomb Al Jazeera's Doha headquarters, citing a classified UK government memo. The newspaper said that Bush was talked out of the move at a White House summit by UK prime minister Tony Blair, who told the president that it would provoke a worldwide backlash.

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