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Al-Jazeera to open 12 U.S. bureau

5:21 PM, May 5, 2013   |    comments
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NASHVILLE (USA Today) -- Some say an Al-Jazeera news bureau in Nashville, Tenn., would offer a fresh perspective and greater coverage of world issues. Some, though, say it could promote anti-Semitism. Still others are asking: Why Nashville?

The news organization, which bought Al Gore's Current TV for $500 million earlier this year, has said it will begin broadcasting Al-Jazeera America sometime late this summer and will have news bureaus in 12 cities across the country, including Nashville.

Bob Wheelock, executive producer of Al-Jazeera English, confirmed Nashville as one of the bureau sites during an interview with WWJ-AM 950 in Detroit on Thursday.

"We're trying to have bureaus in places where other networks do not," Wheelock said. "Detroit is one place, obviously ... New Orleans is another, Nashville. (Places) where we think there is great coverage of the cities they are in, the states they are in and then regional coverage that we can provide by being placed strategically around the country."

Bureaus are to be opened in major U.S. cities such as Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, New Orleans and Washington, D.C., according to Politico.

All of the bureau locations except New Orleans are larger television markets than Nashville, according to Nielsen.

Nashville probably was chosen because it is geographically, politically and demographically central, said Abdulkadir Gure, a Vanderbilt University religious studies lecturer.

"Nashville is a very welcoming city," he said, citing its diversity, including a large Kurdish population.

Nor is the city a stranger to Al-Jazeera.

Kimberly Halkett, a Washington, D.C.-based correspondent for Al-Jazeera English, recently reported about autism research being conducted by Vanderbilt University. She also has reported from Knoxville and Louisville, Ky., in the past week, according to the network's website.

Al-Jazeera America probably will be very similar to CNN, Fox News and other major U.S. news networks, said Saleh Sbenaty, a Middle Tennessee State University engineering professor and a board member of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro (Tenn.).

"It's not like the news is being broadcast from overseas," he said. "For a long time, the United States has been getting its news from domestically generated sources. It would be good for people to hear different voices to get a different point of view and coverage of issues that might not be covered by the media here."

Wheelock told WWJ the network's market research shows there are 50.5 million viewers in the U.S. who have tuned out traditional news outlets.

'Domestic channel'

"Part of what Al-Jazeera America is going to be about is covering America, stories about Americans by Americans," said Wheelock, who has worked in traditional network news for more than 25 years. "It's going to be, primarily, a domestic channel."

For instance, he said the network would have looked to cover the recovery of the auto market and what improving sales would mean for Detroit and other areas affected by the auto industry, including Tennessee.

Even a critic said she would welcome the network's presence in Nashville, but for a different reason.

"I'm not opposed to them coming in, because a lot of people do not know of Al-Jazeera's anti-Semitic, anti-Jewish and anti-Israel bias," said Laurie Cordoza-Moore, president of pro-Israel group Proclaiming Justice to the Nations, based in Franklin, Tenn. "This is a very pro-Israel state. Unfortunately, many Christians are unaware about Al-Jazeera and the rhetoric they put out."

That's a familiar criticism for Al-Jazeera, which says it has more than 65 bureaus worldwide and broadcasts to about 220 million households in more than 100 countries.

Limited distribution

Al-Jazeera has struggled to gain a foothold in the United States, as few U.S. cable systems carry any of its networks. That's why it bought Current TV in January, using that as the basis for Al-Jazeera America. Wheelock said the network expects to be carried in 50 million households when it starts broadcasting later this year.

That prompted Chris Devaney, the Tennessee Republican Party's chairman, to quip in a recent tweet: "I wonder if Al Gore inspired Al-Jazeera to move to Nashville?"


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