Fresh voice: Al Jazeera debuts before an American audience

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Americans should welcome the addition of Al Jazeera America to their menu of television news sources.

The New York-based newsroom promises a fresh perspective on the day's events. Funded by the Persian Gulf state Qatar, Al Jazeera America plans 14 hours of news per day, without shout fests from political extremists. It also pledges to carry only six minutes of commercials per hour, a welcome change from news shows that run up to 20 minutes of ads.

Al Jazeera, which has broadcast overseas for years, covers thoroughly the developments in the Middle East, including reports from correspondents in Israel. Its New York operation has a staff of 400, plus reporters in 12 U.S. bureaus and foreign hotspots such as Iraq, Syria, Pakistan and Yemen. The outlet is well funded, although Qatar's rulers have pledged that they will not interfere in editorial policies.

To address its image problem, Al Jazeera America hired on-air staff whose names and faces are familiar to U.S. viewers, including NBC's John Seigenthaler, CNN's Soledad O'Brien and CBS's Sheila MacVicar. In its Tuesday debut, news segments were devoted to Egypt's unrest, a school shooting in Georgia and Kodak's plan to rebound financially. A critic for The Washington Post called the first few hours of the broadcast "accurate, responsible and technically polished."

Al Jazeera America will have difficulty breaking into a programming area that faces declining viewership. It can be seen through Current TV, a channel it bought in January, in 48 million of the 100 million U.S. households that subscribe to cable television. Some competing channels undoubtedly will attempt to block Al Jazeera from cable systems, based on its Middle Eastern roots. To succumb to such pressure would be to deny viewers access to another point of view.

In the Pittsburgh market, Al Jazeera is being carried by DirecTV, Verizon FiOS and Comcast's Digital Preferred Service. Other providers should add it to their menu to give the new voice a chance to be heard.



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