LONDON — Choosing a highly charged moment to launch, leading Arab channel Al Jazeera has announced it’s rolling out in the U.K. on satcaster BSkyB.
Al Jazeera hit the news earlier this week when a statement alleged to be from Osama bin Laden, the chief suspect in the Sept. 11 U.S. terrorist attacks, was faxed to the channel calling for Pakistanis to “deter with all their might the capabilities of the American crusaders from invading Pakistan and Afghanistan.”
The statement was broadcast along with an uncut version of a 1998 interview in which he expressed anti-U.S./U.K. sentiments.
Company’s London bureau chief, Muftah Al Suwaidan, told Daily Variety that Al Jazeera is not a mouthpiece for Bin Laden, as described by one U.K. paper.
“We are part of the media and, like everyone else, if we get something exclusive we are happy about it,” he said. “People do come to us, including Americans, when they want to get a message across to the Arab world. But we are independent.”
Launched in 1996 Al Jazeera now targets 35 million viewers worldwide, aiming to provide impartial news and current affairs for Arab viewers. Channel is based in the Persian Gulf state of Qatar.
According to an Al Jazeera study, 93% of the 500,000 Arabs in the U.K. already pick up the channel from the Continent using special equipment. The launch means viewers can get the channel more conveniently.
“The channel’s move onto the Sky Digital platform will enable even more members of the Arabic communities to switch on to news and current affairs which is influential but uninfluenced,” said Al Suwaidan.