Al Jazeera's Big US Play
Al Jazeera, one of the world's biggest media companies, is launching a new cable channel in the US. Why? Who will watch?
Al Jazeera's Big US Play
THE ASPEN INSTITUTE
ASPEN IDEAS FESTIVAL 2013
AL JAZEERA'S BIG U.S. PLAY
McNulty Room, Doerr-Hosier Center, Aspen Meadows Resort
845 Meadows Road, 709 East Durant Avenue
Friday, June 28, 2013
LIST OF PARTICIPANTS
Host/Senior Editor, Marketplace
EHAB AL SHIHABI
Executive Director, International Operations
* * * * *
AL JAZEERA'S BIG U.S. PLAY
SPEAKER: Thanks for being here at 8:00 o'clock in the morning. You know, we take attendance
at these things and so you all have a gold star in your files. I think it's going to be a very interesting discussion
for those of you who were at the opening plenary. Ehab Al Shihabi from Al Jazeera presented a big idea
about creating a television news channel for the 21st century.
And then yesterday I think there was a very spirited discussion on this stage about the future of
television news and an interesting contrast between Lawrence O'Donnell from MSNBC and Ehab. And then
of course for this morning's discussion we have Kai Ryssdal from Marketplace, who I feel like I ride home with
every afternoon in the car. So thanks for coming and we look forward to a great discussion.
MR. RYSSDAL: Terrific. And thank you so much. And thank you all for being here, we do
appreciate it. The introductions, I'm going to guess, are not needed. But just in case, Ehab is technically the
executive director for international operations at Al Jazeera. More to the point and more for our discussion
this morning, he is the guy starting up Al Jazeera America in, what, a month and something -- August 20th,
MR. AL SHIHABI: Correct.
MR. RYSSDAL: I'm amazed you have time to be here obviously, because I imagine you have a lot
to do or as he was called yesterday in a panel, Mr. Al Jazeera.
MR. AL SHIHABI: Exactly.
MR. RYSSDAL: So we're going to spend -- I don't know -- half an hour, Ehab and I, talking about
that, talking about how you go about doing what he's trying to do. And then we will open it up to your
questions. I promise to get you guys out of here by 8:50 so we get that taken care of. There is lots to do. I was thinking about how to start this and about how to get into this conversation.
And then I started about -- thinking about the environment that you are going to enter into, the
American cable news environment, which is cannibalistic and opinionated and right and left and in some
ways completely bonkers. Why do you want to be a part of that?
MR. AL SHIHABI: Correct. First of all, let me thank everybody who attended the session yesterday
and the day before. I received a tweet, fantastic tweet from everybody. So that was grateful. The second
thing is, by the way, I've been advised by my colleague in Al Jazeera to smile so I'm going to smile --
MR. RYSSDAL: Go ahead, good.
MR. AL SHIHABI: -- and I'm going to keep smiling all the time. If I don't smile --
MR. RYSSDAL: Right.
MR. AL SHIHABI: -- remind me to smile, I guess. So that's the other part.
MR. RYSSDAL: I'll do that.
MR. AL SHIHABI: Okay. Now, for Al Jazeera America I mean there is definitely a void on the
landscape of the America, okay? I am not entering the landscape of opinionated news. I am not entering
the landscape of the infotainment. I'm entering a landscape which, in my opinion, doesn't exist or it exists but
not in the level that the American audience deserve. So the idea here is we are entering for a market that
consider underserved. Again, our research indicated that roughly around 50 million demanding --
MR. RYSSDAL: Fifty -- 5-0 -- 50 million?
MR. AL SHIHABI: Fifty million, correct.
MR. RYSSDAL: Okay.
MR. AL SHIHABI: -- demanding fact-based, informative, with heavy on the investigation side of
journalism. So they need real information and with a detailed information that inform the American audience
that reflect their issues and also at the same time reflect their happiness. So it will motivate them, but at the
same time also address their issues and we drill on the detail to inform them and recommend certain advices
So the landscape exist, the demand exist, it's been proven. And also it's been proven on the live
streaming that we have for Al Jazeera English.
MR. RYSSDAL: Yeah.
MR. AL SHIHABI: We've been receiving tremendous demand on Al Jazeera English -- 40 percent
of the live streaming -- 40 percent of the live streaming came from the U.S. market. So the research, the
landscape, the focus group that we have conducted, our experience since 2006 with Al Jazeera English
indicated there is a space and there is a huge demand for that type of news. This is why I don't smile
because we had a serious news.
(Laughter)MR. RYSSDAL: So let's get back to the smiling thing, actually, because it kind of speaks to a
broader problem and I'll be curious to get your take on it. I wonder whether you guys with the name Al
Jazeera and with the baggage that it carries in this country don't have something of a branding problem.
And you're going to have a really tough time as you launch, getting people to tune in and get past the Al
Jazeera whatever it is that you are.
MR. AL SHIHABI: Let me just take you a little bit about Al Jazeera. Al Jazeera -- it's a media
network. Al Jazeera has roughly, let's say, around 27 channels. It has many news channel, it has many
documentary channel, it has many children channels, it has many sports channels. Also Al Jazeera has a
strong training center for the media, has a research center and at the same time Al Jazeera -- it is in more than
270 million household around the world.
And Al Jazeera operating from more than 130 countries it has 70 bureaus around the world and
now we are establishing at the launch more than 12 bureaus in the United States. So what does that mean?
It's not about the bureaus. It means that you have original content, a news-gathering power hub that it will
inform the audience. Now, if you go outside the United States and you ask everybody in Asia -- I've been in
Asia -- in Europe -- I've been in Europe -- the penetration rate that we have in these markets across all the
continents, it's phenomenal.
The reputation there is phenomenal. Now, I don't agree with the concept that the brand
reputation in America is an issue. I will let you -- if we segment the stakeholders and if we decided to divide
different bucket -- let's say the journalistic -- the journalism -- the journalist -- the journalist has nothing more than
the respect for Al Jazeera. Ask any journalist, they will tell you Al Jazeera, they know how to do it, they have
a quality in journalism.
If you ask the cable operators currently with all what we have done -- we build a continuous
dialogue with the cable operator. I think in my opinion we have a strong relationship with the cable
operators. If we went at the consumer side -- consumer side, yes, like any startup channel, like any news
channel, some of them they love you, some of them they says you are controversial, some of them they have
The idea here is there is a perception, but on the other hand if you watch the coverage from Wall
Street to New York Times to the Atlantic, to all these coverage, you will see that 80 percent of our coverage
is favorable coverage.
MR. RYSSDAL: Favorable in -- what does that mean? Eighty percent of your coverage -- it's
favorable to you?
MR. AL SHIHABI: No, no, 80 percent of the coverage on the media, that talking about Al
Jazeera, it's favorable -- respect, understanding that it is a quality journalism, understanding it's in-depth,
understanding it's unbiased. So I think I'm very confident that Al Jazeera name -- the time they watch Al
Jazeera, the time they taste Al Jazeera America, they will accept it and they will become loyalists and
MR. RYSSDAL: What's that landscape you were talking about going to look like? Are you going
to fire up a 2-hour morning show from 7:00 to 9:00 competing with Good Morning America or are you
going to have somebody in the afternoons competing with Wolf Blitzer in the CNN Newsroom or wherever
he is these days?
MR. AL SHIHABI: Correct. I mean we are not on the business model to compete. We are on the
business model really to inform the American audience. We are in the business model to provide a quality journalism. We are in the business model at the same time to be profitable, but not on the account of the
quality of journalism. If I give you a little bit about the grid, the high flavor of the grid, of course we're going
to be rolling news, 24x7 rolling news.
We're going to have live -- we're going to have -- I'm sorry, we're going to have documentaries,
original content documentaries, we're going to have original content life style. But if we see what we're
going to bring, at 6:00 o'clock a.m. we're going to have morning news. Around 12:00 o'clock we're
going to have documentaries, long format documentaries.
And then if we say around 7:00 -- I forgot really 7:00 or 9:00 p.m. -- we're going to have the
news hour, our flagship show for the news hour. And since we said it's rolling news, we have -- we're going
to have not 18 hours of advertising. We're going to have roughly around 8 hours of advertising so it will not
be boring the audience.
MR. RYSSDAL: Which is good.
MR. AL SHIHABI: I think it's absolutely fantastic based on the feedback that we got.
MR. RYSSDAL: If you have to fill 24x7 now as cable news alecs do have to do in this country,
are we going to see the George Zimmerman trial, are we going to see Jodi Arias or whatever that poor
woman's name is? I mean there is content that you have to put out there. What's that content going to be?
MR. AL SHIHABI: Correct. The content mainly will be focusing on the following. Number one is,
it will focus on the most pressing issues that impact the American audience, the most pressing issues that
impact the American audience and their lifestyle in very informative, heavy on the investigative side. The other
thing also what we're going to cover, we're going to cover a lot of provocative thoughts that will encourage
the American audience to think and reflect and also participate and enrich the content of Al Jazeera
Also we're going to have local coverage that reflect the community voice. It will reflect also the
interconnect concept between the domestic coverage and the international coverage that impact the
MR. RYSSDAL: None of this comes cheap, you know. Investigative journalism is expensive, hiring
new talent is expensive, starting up these new bureaus in New York and Washington, the new set that you
guys have in Washington and the Newseum is expensive. How much is Al Jazeera spending to start Al
MR. AL SHIHABI: Al Jazeera America is doing a serious investment. So this is not just a trial and
error, we are not recruiting people for trial and error. We are not coming here to survive, we are coming
here to win the mind and the heart of the American audience, keep them informed. So this is a serious
investment that we are doing. This is a serious business model that has been studied carefully into this one.
So I'm not going to share the number that we are putting for that investment, but let me reflect --
and maybe you can tell -- that the investment that we are doing, number one, is more than 800 seasoned
journalists, more than 800 seasoned journalists, cameramen, producers, operations, administrations. On the
other hand, we are investing heavily on the investigative journalism side. This is what we believe.
One of the competitive advantage for Al Jazeera is the investigative journalism. This is where you
get to read news, this is where you get in-depth information. Also we are investing heavily. In addition to our
infrastructure, the international infrastructure of 70 bureaus, we are investing heavily at launch -- around 12
bureaus we'll be launching. And the idea about 12 bureaus just is not about prestige, the idea here is original content.
We are not parachuting people, this is not our model. We station people there so they can
connect with the community. They can reflect the voice of that community. They can share their happiness
and motivate Americans about this and also they can, you know, share and raise the issues that matter to
them. And the third component here really about the 12 bureaus is to be able -- as we said, the original
But at the same time I just need to make sure it's easy to deploy for the other states. So we are
very serious of covering a news from coast to coast. It's not just covering New York, Washington, D.C., and
just hit and run. Our intention really is to be after the fact, to be after the event and stay after the event for
many, many months to reflect the human side of the story. And this is again, as I said yesterday, what we did
In Haiti we did not consider this as a breaking news, hit and run. We consider this as a story that
impact American life and it deserve to stay after the events and reflect all the issues that matter to them, inform
American, inform politicians, inform celebrities.
MR. RYSSDAL: You know, the American news outlet that I would offer most closely models what I
think you're trying to do, right? Long-term coverage, investigative work, inform, good content, all of that stuff.
There is case to be made that that's what PBS NewsHour does, that Jim Lehrer and his crew -- all right, he's
gone now, but that's what they are designed to do.
MR. AL SHIHABI: Sure.
MR. RYSSDAL: And they are drowning in debt, they're not getting companies and corporations to
underwrite them. Yes, you have government support from the government of Qatar, but how long will you
give yourself to get this done before you can actually be profitable?
MR. AL SHIHABI: See, for PBS -- let me just make a statement about PBS. I have nothing -- with
full respect to PBS and I mean I love them, I watch them clearly. But our operating model, it's not 100
percent similar. Okay. Number one is yes, PBS is a long format. AL Jazeera is long format. But the
differentiation here is -- number one is, again I would repeat that is the original content that we can get.
Number two, heavy investment on the investigative journalism that PBS -- they don't have that
capacity. And number three really is, in my opinion is, the demographic they are talking to. I think when I
watch PBS, I see the demographic more on the elite side, on the upper scale side. We are not just going to
cover the elite side, the upper scale side. We're going to cover the true mainstream.
We're going to cover from coast to coast the average American, the mainstream, the area that
nobody went there. We're going to reach to the area that nobody went there, we're going to reach
Nashville, we're going to reach, you know, Chattanooga, we're going to reach Denver, we're going to
reach Detroit. We're going to reach all these communities and elevate their voice. They deserve to be
reached out, they deserve to be, you know, inspired, they deserve to have, you know, issues discussed.
I think, you know, the industry here with the pressure about the cable operator that you have to
cover celebrities and politicians. Yes, we're going to cover politicians, celebrities but in a way that inform the
American audience. That's my opinion.
MR. RYSSDAL: Who's your competition, then? Who do you see out there in the American cable
news environment? Or are you trying to do something else?MR. AL SHIHABI: As I stated before is, if you think -- if you analyze the industry landscape, the
news industry landscape in America, you will see different categories, you will see different level. Again, I'm
not speaking what I think, I'm speaking what the research indicated, the focus group, thought leadership that
we have interacted with. You will see the following. You will see -- you have Fox News, it is very much
opinionated news, you know, taking side.
And they know how to serve their audience very well. Their demographic, in my opinion, is 59,
58 and above, okay? So I'm not competing in that side. I am not opinionated. I am fact-based, I am
unbiased, so I have different -- in my opinion, different audience. Let's talk about MSNBC. Again, they are,
you know, having, you know, their own view.
MR. RYSSDAL: But here's the thing. Opinion-based is what succeeds in American cable news
today. Fox News succeeds, MSNBC succeeds, CNN is killing itself trying to find that middle way.
Opinionated succeeds, it works. The American public likes to hear people who agree with them.
MR. AL SHIHABI: I am not going to deny or debate that. But again, if you see the landscape you
will see a huge void -- the keyword here -- you will see a huge void on the America that demand informative,
in-depth, investigative journalism. Huge demand coming from them. Let's analyze that demographic. That
demographic is a young demographic from 25 to 50.
Their demographic is technical savvy, their demographic is family-oriented, their demographic --
they are a strong segment of America, their demographic is they need information to make a decision that
matter to them. So I'm not debating that Fox, MSNBC have their audience. I'm not trying -- my mission is not
to convert their audience to me, although I am very confident some of their audience will come to Al Jazeera,
but I am feeling a big gap that currently exists.
MR. RYSSDAL: If you don't want to be competitive with those groups then, how are you going to
know you've succeeded? If you're not stealing their audience, how are you going to know you're doing
what you set out to do?
MR. AL SHIHABI: Okay. So first of all, I am tapping into an audience that I consider my
audience, which is the void that exists in the industry. That's my audience. One key element to measure my
success is that audience, okay? Number two, to measure my success is not about the audience only. To
measure my success is the quality of journalism and the standard of journalism that we are giving.
Can the American audience, whether they are biased to Fox or MSNBC, can they see the
difference between coverage of AL Jazeera and the coverage of the other channel. This is how I measure my
success. Number three, the normal way how the industry measure their success, is really about rating and the
financial model they are generating. So again, I like rating and we're going to stick with the rating, I like
money, we're going to stick with the money.
But there is a critical important piece that we didn't want to miss -- accuracy, unbiased, in-depth,
quality of journalism. Americans deserve quality of journalism.
MR. RYSSDAL: So let me get back to my earlier point about unbiased and quality of journalism. I
believe that the hurdle you will face getting American audiences to tune into a channel named Al Jazeera is
higher than you believe. Where do you go if that proves impenetrable? What do you do?
MR. AL SHIHABI: First of all -- I hear you carefully and I hear you very well. I don't believe on
this. The reason why, we have been doing -- since January until now, we've been doing reach out. And
we've been doing reach out not just for New York City, Washington, D.C., L.A. We've been reaching out in
Denver, Detroit and we are reaching out to Chicago. We have reached out to many communities, some of them minorities, some of them majority, et cetera.
And we built an extensive dialogue and we did a grass-root analysis. It all shows, it all indicates
-- do we have a bucket of resistance? Yes. But the majority is favorable. The majority of them is very curious
and interested to see that product.
MR. RYSSDAL: Let me change gears for a minute. You guys spent plus or minus half a billion
dollars -- $400 million, $500 million to buy Current TV from Al Gore and Joel Hyatt, what, a year plus or
MR. AL SHIHABI: I'm not going to disclose the numbers, so this is your assumption.
MR. RYSSDAL: -- plus or minus -- reports are -- don't you love that, the reports are? This is what
you had in mind. I mean you bought Current TV for the network and for the placement on the cable
networks, right? This is the fulfillment of that plan?
MR. AL SHIHABI: So you're -- again, I am sorry, what's the question?
MR. RYSSDAL: So when you bought Current TV from Al Gore for whatever -- however much it
was, this is the fulfillment of that purchase, right? This is why you bought it, this is what you're trying to do.
MR. AL SHIHABI: I mean the concept was here. I mean when the idea, when the director
general -- I mean the director general, he's a transformative thinker. And the first he did, he analyzed the
spectrum. We are everywhere and he just raised the question, why we cannot be in the U.S. market. We
have team, the executive director, why we cannot be in the U.S. market.
And what we did as a team, we went and we conducted a research. And the idea here is -- was
the idea -- the obstacle is high because the industry is saturated with all the news, but the opportunity is great.
And the question was, can we build or shall we go for a buy? The build, it will take time. Going to the
cable operators, and spend, you know, the business case and show them the business case and all of this is
time-consuming. You know what I mean?
You can go and meet with them and it will take you on average between a year, 2 years, 3 years
to be able to build and convince them on the business model since you know they are -- I mean the cable
operator, there is no secret -- I mean the course of the programming on the cable operator is very high. So
there is a lot of push and back. What we did here is also the option was buy because I think it's short
What you can do is buy, take the household and start reprogramming the channel. And this is
our competitive advantage of buying Current TV. It's -- you need to go for the aggressive model, which is
time -- which is risky but at the same time it's less time, or do you need to build that will take you for 3 to 5
years. I think our business case was why not go in for the model where we can buy and then reprogram to
build Al Jazeera America. And I think in my opinion it was a smart decision and a smart investment.
MR. RYSSDAL: I'm going to open it up in just a second to your questions. So start thinking on
what you want to ask Mr. Al Shahibi -- Shihabi, sorry. How are you going to know you succeeded? How
are you going to know you got it right?
MR. AL SHIHABI: Okay. Again, as I said it, number one is the quality, the standard of journalism,
okay? Number two is how I think I'm succeeding that we are following our vision and missions. And we are
not really distracted from our vision and mission -- as I stated, fact-based, unbiased, in-depth, interconnect
concept between domestic and international news. Number three, winning the mind and the heart of the American, be able to inform them.
And number five and six -- or four and five -- I forgot really -- is also consider -- the rating is very
critical for us. The margin of the profit also is critical for us. But again, it's a trade-off formula between the
quality of journalism and succeeding in the normal, standard operating model from profitability and rating.
MR. RYSSDAL: Have you hired somebody to run this thing for you yet? Because you've got --
you're internationally focused, I mean your job is international operations. Who's going to run this part of the
MR. AL SHIHABI: As we state now -- I mean we recruited more than 650 staff. And as you can
see -- I mean I can give you a name, a strong name that -- see, what we are having here -- in a simple term,
we have a launch team -- that consider diversifies launch team, but at the same time Al Jazeera America, it's
American staff, American board, American advisory board. The American staff, they are already there. We
have executive producers, we have producers, we have talent, we have journalists.
And currently, in a matter of fact, they are already doing the piloting, they are doing roughly
around 16-hour piloting for the news and at the same time they are doing piloting on the programming. The
senior leadership has been identified, we are on the final stage of the negotiation with them, but the
announcement will be coming soon.
MR. RYSSDAL: To be clear, this is going to be American domestically produced programming,
which is a switch from the original intent, as I understand it?
MR. AL SHIHABI: There is -- it's not a switch from the original intent. Our intent from the
beginning, this is American channel for American audience, running by American staff, running by American
board with the advisory board. The channel will cover domestic news as well as international news. The
concept here is building the interconnect concept. Domestic news coverage, we don't believe you cover
domestic news without the impact of the international news. And this is what we call the interconnect
We have 70 bureaus, we have 12 bureaus here, we're going to bring original content that have
a lot of domestic and have international news. It depend on the stories, it depend on the news. Sometime
you might have a breaking news happening somewhere overseas that it might take 80 percent of your
programming. Sometimes you had a domestic news that will have 90 percent of the programming. We
never decided this is 60-40. It is the interconnect concept, it's a domestic coverage and international
MR. RYSSDAL: All right. Let's go to your questions. There's -- raised some hands. Do we have
mic runners? Is that how we're going to do this? Yeah? So let's take them in the back, in the corner there,
SPEAKER: Two questions, related. Is this like BBC at all -- BBC or BBCA? And two, how are you
going to assure the American audience that -- you keep saying it's factual and not opinionated, but what is
the influence or lack of influence of the owner or owners of this network that they're not going to be
MR. AL SHIHABI: Sure.
MR. RYSSDAL: That barrier I was talking about, there it is, right? So let's remind people who the
owner of Al Jazeera is, and then answer his question, if you would.MR. AL SHIHABI: Fantastic. What is fascinating -- thank you very much for the questions. I would
love to highlight it. It's fascinating he's asking me these questions. But in -- maybe you never asked BBC
about these questions. So --
MR. RYSSDAL: Yeah. And he's comparing you to the BBC, which is a favorable comparison, I
mean that's good for you.
MR. AL SHIHABI: Yeah, exactly, exactly. So the idea here is, I'm receiving these questions, but I
don't think BBC is being asked these questions, the idea here is --
MR. RYSSDAL: But BBC has been around for 80 years with a demonstrated track record. And
you'll admit that Al Jazeera in its original format in 2003 and 2004 had some controversial things put on its
MR. AL SHIHABI: I wouldn't admit that, absolutely not. I wouldn't --
MR. RYSSDAL: Whether you admit or not --
MR. AL SHIHABI: -- absolutely not.
MR. RYSSDAL: -- doesn't take away from what happened in fact.
MR. AL SHIHABI: Fine. I mean let the audience judge on this one. But let me go back again to
the question. The question is, if you know the BBC model, it is Al Jazeera's similar model, almost. Number
two, I am adhering to the U.S. law, am I right? This is an organization based in America, legal entity in
America, adhering to the U.S. law. And number three, which is very critical is, it has American board and it
has advisory board.
Number three, as usual, it's American staff, you know what I mean? It's run by American staff, it
has an editorial board. At the operational level they run it on a day-to-day basis into this one. So the firewall
between influence and the editorial, it exists. And it strongly exists. And number two -- what was the question
number two, I am sorry?
SPEAKER: What I'm concerned about is you take the New York Post or actually even in some
sense the Wall Street Journal now --
MR. RYSSDAL: Owned by Rupert Murdoch, just so everybody is --
SPEAKER: Yeah. And there is an influence whether it's the editorial page or the content or what's
shown or how it's presented by the owner. And so you keep saying -- and I respect it -- the advisory board.
But the real question is who's going to control content. That's --
MR. AL SHIHABI: See -- I mean it's simple answer -- who controls content. First of all, let me make
sure, this is an institution -- has a strong code of ethics. And any staff, any American staff who join Al Jazeera
America, will -- they have to adhere to the code of ethics. And number two, who will run it? I mean we
don't have the control and the censorship that maybe other organization have.
Who will run it is empowered executive producer. It's simple as that -- empowered executive
producers who can make the decisions and adhere to the vision and the mission of Al Jazeera America with
a strong code of ethics.
MR. RYSSDAL: Let's get somebody over here. In the back there, yes, ma'am.SPEAKER: Assalamu alaykum wa mabrouk (inaudible). I was --
MR. AL SHIHABI: Wa alaikum assalam and thank you very much.
SPEAKER: I was with Al Jazeera English when it started 2006.
MR. AL SHIHABI: Sure.
SPEAKER: And it was a troubled birth and delivery, to put it mildly. What lessons have you
learned from that experience that you may apply to the early weeks and months of Al Jazeera America? But
also, what would be the nature of the interaction between Al Jazeera English and Al Jazeera America in
terms of sharing content and other interactions?
MR. AL SHIHABI: Sure, absolutely. See -- I mean as you recall, Al Jazeera America, it has its
own identity, am I right? And it has its own legal entity, it has own staff. Having said that, I need to remind
you about -- we are a network and also we have to be cost-efficient and cost-effective. As we said,
interaction will be -- Al Jazeera America will be heavily involved on covering domestic from coast to coast
and also we're going to tap into Al Jazeera international and other channels that we have.
We have Turkish, we have Al Balkan and we are opening more channels. And the interactions
and the service level agreement between the two channels, it's been well-defined. We are going to keep --
we're going to -- we have a strong infrastructure -- 70 bureaus around the world. We're going to tap into
these bureaus, we're going to tap into that original content, whether this is Al Jazeera Balkan, this is Al
Jazeera Turk, this is Al Jazeera International.
We have no restriction as well as we define ourself as Al Jazeera America with its strong
governance structures and a service level agreement between the two channels. Then we have no constraint
to do a sharing of the original content between them because this is the power hub for Al Jazeera where we
have. And regarding the lesson learned, I don't know about what's the trouble for Al Jazeera International.
I'm not familiar with that, but in this stage we do, every launch we do, it's an opportunity for us to learn and
it's become a lesson learned.
And this is why we believe -- we have done it many times. The launch is not this is the first time.
The launch has been done many times for us and we become experienced enough in launching a channel.
The question will be here is are we expert in the America. The answer is we have conducted extensive
research, we have talked to our top leaderships and also we are here since 2006, which is we have
enough experience about America. And number three or four --
MR. RYSSDAL: I think it was two but --
MR. AL SHIHABI: Two? Okay. Okay, number two, which is very critical. When we cover
stories, we look at the human side of the story. The human side of the story, whether you are covering Al
Balkan, whether you are covering the Middle East, whether you are covering America, it is the same
principle. The human side element, it is the same principle, it's not different at all, we have experienced it and
we have won award in America. And I will tell you, Al Jazeera English by itself last year won more than 12
serious awards -- Kennedy Award, Roosevelt Award and -- you name it.
MR. RYSSDAL: Let's go back around this --
MR. AL SHIHABI: My smiling, by the way, it's okay? Excellent.(Laughter)
MR. RYSSDAL: Guy in the striped shirt here, which I will say in full disclosure, is a guy by the
name of J.J. Yore. He's the cofounder of the program that I host. It's called Marketplace.
MR. YORE: Good morning.
MR. AL SHIHABI: Good morning.
MR. YORE: You know, I think here's the cognitive disconnect that I'm having, which is I listen to
everything you say and then I think about the freedom of press that doesn't exist at the sort of centre of your
network, at the ownership level, and which is very different from the situation, say, with the BBC. And I
wonder if you could talk about that because I think that's a source of skepticism about how free you -- your
network can be in terms of its coverage.
MR. AL SHIHABI: Correct, thank you so much.
MR. RYSSDAL: The barrier I was talking about, that one again.
MR. AL SHIHABI: I don't think this is --
MR. RYSSDAL: I'm just saying.
MR. AL SHIHABI: I don't think this is a barrier. In my opinion, this is a great opportunity because
if there is a myth, we need to clear it. And this is the type of dialog that I will love to do with everybody
whenever I visit a community. We love to be challenged, we love to be educated. The idea here is -- if you
remember -- I mean you are talking about the Middle East. I need -- you should -- we should give, in my
opinion, the emir of Qatar -- it's -- Al Jazeera -- all started as a vision of the emir.
And I will tell you that's for sure. And number two, you are looking for the Middle East who was
founded on a state-owned television, state-owned television. And in the middle of that area where you are
talking about state-owned journalism, the bone of Al Jazeera where it's not state-owned journalism, it's not
state-owned television, and to have at that market the freedom of a speech and the empowerment of the
executive producers to raise all the issues for that area, I think that's unbelievable idea.
I think you have to give the credit for that. So if at that age and at that time we were able to do
this, the freedom of a speech, I think now it's straightforward. We passed all the challenge and the test that
it's been at that time and I don't think we have a challenge and test anymore.
MR. RYSSDAL: I wonder if you're splitting hairs though, right, between state-owned and statefunded. I mean the emir of Qatar came out and said, I am going to pay for this, it is going to be mine,
whether I own it or not, this is the root of this company. And that, I would offer, is the genesis of this question,
the man's question at the back, that disconnect between what we are used to in this country, which is not
state-funded -- let's not get away from -- NPR and public radio aside, right?
Apart from that, how do you disconnect those two in American listeners' minds? And I understand
it that the proof will be in the pudding, that the only way to demonstrate your concept is to demonstrate your
concept. But you got to get people watching before you can do that.
MR. AL SHIHABI: You know, absolutely. But again, you're asking me this question but did you
ask BBC this question and PBS this question? It's the same model. I don't know why you're still hammering
this. And for me it's no-brainer. It's the same concept. And again, I mean we are not denying this is -- a grant is being given for Al Jazeera America. But there is -- a strong firewall exists with its editorial policy. A
I mean BBC they have the strong firewall, Al Jazeera America they have the strong firewall, PBS
they have a strong firewall.
MR. RYSSDAL: Let's go over here somewhere -- yes, ma'am, in the white sweater there on the
table. Microphone's coming to you, ma'am. There you go.
SPEAKER: What percentage of Al Jazeera America is staffed by women and what about Al
Jazeera International with women?
MR. AL SHIHABI: I love your questions. One of the key element here is diversity, diversity,
diversity, okay? And if you can see -- I wish I have the press release ready, but I'm going to pause a little bit
because I do not want to steal the thunder of the announcement that we're going to make. But I will assure
you that we have a huge percentage and we have roughly I would say more than 40 percent about
And if you can see the executive producer that we hire, we hire -- most of them they are women. I
mean they have Kim Bondy for the flagship show that we are doing. We hired also a couple of talent that --
it's about to be announced soon and there is -- enough female and women exist in our channel, plus a
diversity. You know, we are not just looking for American with different diversity -- African-American, white --
different. So diversity is critical for us.
And this is one of the key success for Al Jazeera English. If you see Al Jazeera English diversity, we
have more than 50 nationalities sitting around the world giving us the flavor of the diversity. And if I can take
you to Al Balkan channel, Al Balkan channel -- I would love to invite you there. We launch a channel -- in Al
Balkan, you know, it's Balkanized and you can see we have people from Serbia, from Bosnia, from
Macedonia, and it's a fantastic operating model exist -- I'm sorry. (Cell phone rings).
MR. RYSSDAL: Let's get somebody over here -- right here. Yes, sir. Maybe one or two more.
SPEAKER: I don't know what portion of the market I represent, but I don't watch television news at
all, ever. I get only news from NPR, Mr. Ryssdal.
MR. RYSSDAL: Thank you, sir.
SPEAKER: -- and I get it from The New York Times. But I'm going to disagree with Mr. Ryssdal. I
think that Al Jazeera's name is not going to be a problem. I listened to you the other day and then today and
I'm quite curious to see whether you can produce. Because if you can produce what NPR produces, which
is news balanced, not screaming at you, relevant, I think that it's got a good chance of succeeding.
Al Jazeera has a name, it's not a good one, but it's one that I think raises curiosity amongst people
like myself. I don't know how big an audience I represent.
MR. RYSSDAL: Let me ask you a question, sir. How long are you willing to give it? A month, 6
months, a year? And let's just for the record, this one's -- this guy is on your side, right, so there we go.
SPEAKER: I think that within a month or two you're going to know whether or not they're covering
adequately and then -- and you know, they're not screaming at us and they're not telling us things that, you
know, we know or that's not -- more importantly they're not telling us over 17 times in 10 minutes like Rush
Limbaugh manages to do.MR. RYSSDAL: Right. Maybe the last one -- right in the middle -- yes, ma'am. Mic is come to you
right behind you, there you go.
MS. PORGES: Good morning. Thank you so much for informing us about what you're planning
to do. My name is Shelly Porges, Washington, D.C. I'm in the national finance cochair for the Ready for
Hillary PAC. I wanted to ask you, you said that you are going to cover topics that are important to the
American people. Clearly politics is one of those. With the presidential election coming up, we are
accustomed to having --
MR. RYSSDAL: God, it's 2016 -- it's not coming up yet -- sorry.
MS. PORGES: Okay. With whatever election you want coming up that are --
MR. RYSSDAL: All right.
MS. PORGES: -- that's important to the American people, what can we expect in terms of your
MR. AL SHIHABI: Sure. Thank you. Just to go back, sorry, to your questions, I would like to invite
you just to see Al Jazeera English. If you see Al Jazeera English you will see a strong content and it will whet
your appetite to what you're looking for. And then you can tune for Al Jazeera America. So that's very
critical to see Al Jazeera English. And number two, everybody who watch Al Jazeera English, they become
And if you see the tweets, if you see what Hillary Clinton said, what (inaudible) said, if you see
what McCain said -- we -- what -- you know, I think it's a fantastic coverage. And you will -- definitely you
will not see shouting heads. We are not that type. We are again fact-based, informative, unbiased, indepth. So I think that, you know, will whet your appetite hopefully very soon. And you can look at AL
Jazeera English now and you can conclude some judgment about it.
Now, regarding the political coverage what you expect -- first of all, Al Jazeera English did the
political coverage. And again, why I'm tapping into Al Jazeera English because my product of Al Jazeera
America hasn't been launched yet. So I have to give you an evidence and reference. If you look for our
coverage of the elections -- and the American standards give us an award. So that indicates something.
That indicate our coverage was in-depth, was giving the different angle of the story, and at the
same time it try as much as we can to translate to the American audience what that mean -- not to take a
side, but also inform them about different perspective.
MR. RYSSDAL: And I think we're done. Thank you all very much for your time, ladies and
gentlemen. Sir, thank you.
MR. AL SHIHABI: Thank you so much.
MR. RYSSDAL: Thank you.
* * * * *
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