Al Jazeera English maps out 9/11 coverage
By DAVID BAUDER AP Television Writer
NEW YORK (AP) -- Like most television news outlets, Al Jazeera English will station reporters in New York and Washington on Sunday to mark the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. It also will have reporters on hand in Baghdad, Bali, Nairobi, Kabul and Islamabad.
The network, which started five years after the attacks, said it hopes to bring a global perspective to the anniversary that domestic networks likely won't.
This weekend's events also may provide a test of whether Al Jazeera English, still seen mostly online in the United States despite its availability in a total of 250 million homes worldwide, can get past a lingering sense of hostility that many Americans feel toward it.
Anchor Tony Harris will report from the World Trade Center site on Sunday, with other New York-based reporters. Al Jazeera will also send a reporter to Dearborn, Mich., for a story on how the U.S. Muslim community is treating the anniversary.
The event will remind an international audience about what happened on Sept. 11 and how it changed the United States. But through the coverage at overseas sites and documentaries that are airing in the days before, the focus will be on how it changed the rest of the world, said Owen Watson, international executive producer.
"We're reporting the views of the people who live overseas, from people who have no idea what went on on that day to those who have lost loved ones in the wars that followed," Watson said.
The network has been running a three-part documentary series on the 9/11 decade, focusing on the war between the United States and al Qaida in intelligence and image. One part is about the "clash of civilizations" between American political conservatives and international terrorists.
Watson contrasted Al Jazeera English's coverage to advertisements he has seen for domestic reporting of the event with the theme of "America Remembers."
"We're providing a niche that is not available somewhere else," said Amjad Atallah, bureau chief for the Americas at Al Jazeera English.
Still, Al Jazeera has a lingering image problem in the United States that has been most obvious in its failure to become available on all but a few cable television systems. Many Americans don't distinguish the Qatar-based network from its Arabic-speaking main network, Al Jazeera, which started in 1996 and had problems with the Bush administration, Atallah said.
Many Americans put Al Jazeera English in with a general hostility toward Arab people and institutions that arose out of the attacks, and they falsely consider Al Jazeera English a network that promotes an Arab view of the world instead of simply an international one, Atallah said.
"The stereotypes that are there aren't because you've watched it," he said. "The stereotypes are there because you haven't been given the opportunity to watch it."
Al Jazeera English did not debate internally whether or not to give extensive coverage to the anniversary, he said.
"I don't think you can claim to be a major global news organization and not cover the anniversary," said Dave Marash, a former "Nightline" correspondent who worked for Al Jazeera English in Washington before leaving in 2008.
Some of the misunderstandings with U.S. consumers have been promoted by Al Jazeera English itself.
Its correspondent Gabriel Elizondo has traveled across the U.S. from California to New York reporting on 9/11 and its aftermath. He wrote a blog entry about how "Al Jazeera Isn't Welcome" at a high school in Texas just over the Oklahoma border. Elizondo said he showed up at a Friday night high school football game in Booker, Texas, and asked to speak to some of the people there about their attitudes toward Sept. 11.
Elizondo wrote that the reaction of school officials grew cold when they found out he was from Al Jazeera English and he was refused permission to film interviews.
The school district's superintendent subsequently wrote that the refusal of Elizondo's request came because some townspeople had given permission to have students depicted in news reports on school grounds and some hadn't, and that it was difficult to police that at a large event like a football game.
Marash said he's been impressed with how quickly Al Jazeera English has been able to build a television news organization that in some places was second to none in the world. But he has noticed how some of its coverage of the United States reflects a negative attitude toward the country that he didn't see in its coverage of other nations - one of the issues that led to his leaving.
Of its Sept. 11-related coverage to date, Marash said that "what I have seen so far essentially reflects a reasonable collection of the various points of view, most of them sympathetic, but some of them growing less patient with the United States."
Atallah said he expected a significant amount of people in the United States would check out what Al Jazeera English has to say this weekend.
"The type of viewers we will get are often people who would describe themselves as global citizens," he said. "We don't have a separate news that shows in the United States and a separate news that's shown in the Middle East, a separate news that's shown in Africa, a separate news that's shown in Asia. It's all one program.
"It has to be relevant to everyone at the same time," he said.