The all-news Arabic television network Al-Jazeeralaunched its new English-language service on Wednesday, but has failed to find a major cable network to carry it in North America.

The station launched its service at noon GMT,7 a.m. ET, with the announcement it had begun "a new era in international news."


Shiulie Ghosh, left and Sami Zeidan anchored the first program on Al-Jazeera's English channel from television studios in Doha, Qatar, on Wednesday. ((Al-Jazeera/Associated Press))

Early news items centred on the world's trouble spots, starting with a live report from the Gaza Strip and including live reports from Iran, Darfur, Zimbabwe and Brazil.

Perhaps in an effort to establish a reputation for balanced news, there were reports from Jerusalem over Israel's anger at a Palestinian rocket attack and promises of interviews to come with both Khaled Meshaal of Hamas and Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres.

The network also had a chance to demonstrate its speed at breaking news with a tsunami warning in Japan.

Critics remarked on the sophisticated studios and professional delivery by anchors Shiulie Ghosh and Sami Zeidan.

London Times said the reporting was "slick, fast-paced and thoroughly professional" and had "no political quarrel" with the coverage.

The company says it expects Al-JazeeraInternational will be seen in 80 million homes around the world, mainly in the Middle East, Europe and Africa.

But it is not being broadcast in Canada and can be seen in only a few places in the U.S.

The English-language network isan offshoot of the successful Arab network based in Doha, Qatar. The Arab-language network received CRTC approval to broadcast in Canada in 2004.

But the CRTC ordered a delay of the signalso carriers can monitor for offensive content and no cable company has been willing to take up the task of monitoring the station 24 hours a day, a condition that has also discouraged them from taking on the English-language network.

In the U.S., four minor operators with just a few thousand subscribers have agreed to carry the English network.

Talks recently broke down between Al-Jazeera and one major U.S. cable company, Comcast.

However, it is also available to computer users via a broadband internet connection.

'Middle East perspective'

Al-JazeeraInternational plans to report world news from a Middle East perspective and challenge the dominance of Western media, including networks such as the BBC and CNN.


The first day of broadcasting by Al-Jazeera drew praise for its slick presentation, including its professional studio. ((Al-Jazeera/Associated Press))

The station also plans to give a fresh voice to under-reported regions around the world and has set up an extensive news network in Africa.

"We will be the channel of reference in the Middle East, quite distinct from something like the Fox channel," Sue Phillips, a former CBC employee who is Al-Jazeera's London bureau chief, said in an interview with CBC Radio.

Al-Jazeera has hired reporting talent and well-known faces, including British broadcaster David Frost, to appeal to Western viewers.

But Washington has objected to the Arabic network's close ties to al-Qaeda and the way it portrays the war in Iraq.

Like the Fox network, Al-Jazeera is accused of skewing the news to fit a point of view of its viewers,said Marvin Kalb of Harvard University's Center on the Press.

"It starts with a market that likes to hear many — if not flat out anti-American stuff— very critical of the United States, very critical of Israel, very critical of what we in the U.S. take to be our democratic values," he said.

That point of view has made Al-Jazeera English a hard sell in North America and forced the CRTC to impose restrictions because of the fear that some content on the network would be anti-Semitic.

But the network's news staff point to the Arab network's pioneering and courageous coverage of Middle Eastern affairs, which has angered leaders in many Arabic nations as well as those in Washington.

"The existing broadcasters do not provide what Al-Jazeera is about to provide,"Phillips told Reuters.

"We want to push the boundaries, we want to cover parts of the world that are not covered by the other organizations, the unreported world …. We want to probe and ask those questions that perhaps others don't ask," she said.

The English-language Al-Jazeera will broadcast via satellite from four centres in Kuala Lumpur, Doha, London and Washington. It is funded by the emir of Qatar.

It is being launched at a time when the BBC is planning an Arabic-language network and France wants its own answer to CNN, with plans for an all-news network to launch in 2007.