Al Jazeera to cover political confabs

News net to provide live U.S. convention coverage for 1st time

NEW YORK — Skyboxes at the political conventions are largely reserved for America’s media elite, but at the upcoming Democratic and Republican confabs, there will be a new banner flying: that of Arabic news satcaster Al Jazeera.

Al Jazeera will have 16 staffers covering next week’s Democratic gathering in Boston, working out of a skybox in the upper reaches of the Fleet Center. Leading the coverage will be the net’s Washington bureau chief, Hafiz al-Mirazi.

It’s the first time that the Qatar-based Al Jazeera, launched in 1996, will provide live coverage of a U.S. political convention.

The 24/7 news net’s skybox isn’t as posh or prominently located as those of the major U.S. networks, but its presence and Arabic signage are certain to attract attention.

The Bush administration has routinely bashed Al Jazeera for playing into the hands of terrorists. At the same time, top Bush cabinet members have appeared on Al Jazeera in the hopes of winning the hearts and minds of Arabs.

News net, seen throughout the Middle East, has been hosting a weekly show on the U.S. presidential race since January. Al Jazeera Washington bureau manager Stephanie Thomas said covering the two conventions is the natural culmination of that effort.

Next week, Al Jazeera plans to anchor a live broadcast each evening of the Dem convention — affording the same amount of time the U.S. broadcast nets will be offering in primetime — and devote a substantial portion of its main newscast to convention news. There also will be live updates throughout the day.

As with other nets, Al Jazeera is turning the skybox space into a makeshift studio, allowing for both an anchor desk and place to interview guests.

And like other foreign broadcasters, Al Jazeera partnered with a U.S. network affiliate service, in this case ABC NewsOne, to secure credentials for both conventions. Other foreign media outlets using ABC NewsOne include the BBC and Japan’s NHK.

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