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Al Jazeera Seeks to Become Private Firm

January 31, 2005|From Associated Press

DOHA, Qatar — Al Jazeera, the Arab satellite TV station that has drawn the ire of officials in Washington, is studying how to become a private company without subsidies from Qatar's government, a station spokesman said Sunday.

Since its start in 1996, Al Jazeera has won a large following across the Arab world with a reputation as an independent voice in a region where most news media are state-controlled.

U.S. leaders have frequently complained about the station's coverage of the Iraq conflict and accuse it of encouraging violence against American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Governments in the region have been angered by Al Jazeera programs criticizing Arab authorities, and the station's offices in Iraq and several other Arab countries have been ordered closed.

The New York Times said Sunday that strained relations over the complaints had led the U.S.-allied Qatari government to accelerate efforts to privatize the station.

Government officials were not available for comment, but Al Jazeera spokesman Jihad Ballout said the station had been discussing privatization for 15 months.

Some of Al Jazeera's operating expenses are underwritten by Qatar's government, and the station brings in revenue from ads, sponsorship deals, program sales and subscriptions in Europe and North America.

"We've been subsidized by the Qatari government since 1996, and we believe that this is the next stage. The most important factor is that Al Jazeera maintain its independence," Ballout said.

"I don't think privatization will have much of an impact on the station's editorial policy," said Rami Khouri, executive editor of the Daily Star newspaper in Lebanon.

"Their editorial formula seems to be a successful one, and they have a large regional and global audience."

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