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Al-Jazeera public about private plan

Arab news satcaster reports that it is to be privatized

LONDON — Arab news satcaster Al-Jazeera on Monday confirmed reports that it is to be privatized.

Channel spokesman Jihad Ballout said that plans to go public had been in the pipelines for 15 months. But he said he had no information about a report in Sunday’s New York Times claiming pressure from U.S. officials forced the government in Qatar, which bankrolls Al-Jazeera, to speed up the privatization plan.

In a report that appeared on Al-Jazeera’s Web site, Ballout said he didn’t know of attempts to intervene with the station’s independence.

“The form of privatization is to be decided over the coming months on the basis of the final results of a study being carried out by a U.S. firm, which specializes in privatization,” he commented separately.

A new board was approved in early January that will deliver plans by the end of the year to attract bids from private firms for the satcaster, which was launched in 1996 by the Emir of Qatar.

There are pros and cons to investing in Al-Jazeera.

It has an estimated audience of 30 million to 35 million, a new English-language channel set to bow this year and was recently voted the world’s fifth most recognizable brand by Brandchannel.com, behind Apple, Google, Ikea and Starbucks.

But it is beset by problems, not least of which is its lack of advertising revenue.

Shut down in Iraq, the U.S. government has become increasingly frustrated with a perceived anticoalition bias in Al-Jazeera’s reporting, but Arab governments also attack it for being critical of their regimes.

The station has a ways to go before convincing investors, particularly American and European, that it can function as a professional and efficient multinational news network.

Al-Jazeera also will face increased competition — the BBC has been granted funding to create its own Arabic-language TV channel.

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