BOSTON — With around-the-clock live reports from its Fleet Center skybox, Al-Jazeera is trying to assume a legitimate place alongside the rest of the world media covering the Democratic convention.
But it won’t be easy.
Al-Jazeera, vilified by the Bush administration for airing videotapes of Osama Bin Laden, is struggling to shake its reputation as a mouthpiece for Arab resentment of the U.S.
The Qatar-based newsie faces mounting competition from other Arab-lingo networks, including Dubai-based Al-Arabiya, which is also providing live coverage from Boston.
Al Hurra, a U.S.-based Arab-lingo broadcaster subsidized by the State Dept., is also on hand to cover the DNC and, for obvious reasons, gains access more easily to top American officials. Before the convention started, Al-Jazeera was forced to remove its Fleet Center banner, which would have appeared in wide shots of the podium on other networks.
“The knee-jerk association of Al-Jazeera with Osama Bin Laden is completely out of proportion,” Stephanie Thomas, Al-Jazeera’s Washington bureau manager for external affairs, told Daily Variety.
Unlike Al Hurra and Al-Arabiya, Al-Jazeera covered the 2000 conventions. But it brought much more firepower to Boston, including a staff of 16 producers and technicians from its Washington bureau.
It’s broadcasting four hours of coverage each night (more than the combined time of the three U.S. broadcast networks with news divisions). Those feeds are expected to reach 40 million viewers overseas, along with a tiny U.S. market, which gains access to Al-Jazeera through the Arab-lingo package on the Dish network.
After the flap over the Fleet Center banner, the Kerry campaign appointed a media liaison with the network.
And though President Bush has yet to grant Al-Jazeera an interview, the net will cover the Republican convention aggressively. Condoleezza Rice and Donald Rumsfeld are among the administration officials who have granted it interviews. “Regardless of what anyone tells you about us being a terrorist network, the Bush administration is talking to us,” Thomas said.