Monday, October 10, 2005

English Aljazeera hunts for big names

A few days ago I posted BBC's report on Sir David Frost joining the English-language network of Aljazeera. Washington Post's Howard Kurts, who also hosts " Reliable Sources" on CNN every Sunday, has more on that and also the new network's prospects in the US where it's seriously frowned upon. Here are the highlights of the report:

...The Thursday announcement of the hiring of Frost, who will continue to work for the BBC, comes as al-Jazeera is looking for a few good Americans -- anchors, correspondents and producers -- for the network as it prepares to launch early next year.

From a nondescript office building on K Street, where an armed guard mans the lobby, staffers have been calling television agents about their clients. But a number of those approached, including several well-known personalities whose agent would not identify them by name, have quickly rebuffed the overture.

"Some are a bit leery," said Nigel Parsons, the former staffer for BBC and Associated Press Television News who is running al-Jazeera International. "There is an image problem to be overcome."

Al-Jazeera's reputation wasn't helped when a Spanish court last month sentenced former correspondent Taysir Alouni to seven years in prison on charges of collaborating with al Qaeda.

One journalist who will anchor a Washington call-in program is Riz Kahn, a former BBC staffer and CNN International host.

Even without al-Jazeera's controversial reputation, it will be difficult for the new network -- which has deals to be carried in Europe, Asia and Africa -- to get widespread access to U.S. cable and satellite outlets. "We don't expect to be on in 25 or 30 million homes on Day One," Parsons said. "I'll be delighted if we've got 5 million homes and can build on that."