New Delhi: The Al Jazeera network is soon likely to be given permission by the Indian government to broadcast its English language television news channel in the country.
“Our understanding is that the external affairs ministry has cleared our application and the I&B (information and broadcasting) ministry is awaiting clearance from the home ministry,” said Anmol Saxena, India bureau chief of Al Jazeera English. “We have been told the whole process will be completed quite soon.”
Reaching out: Tony Burman, managing director of Al Jazeera English
The network had in 2006 applied for a down-linking licence to the I&B ministry through its India-registered arm AJI International Pvt. Ltd. The application went through an inter-ministerial consultation process involving the ministries of external affairs and home, apart from I&B, said an I&B ministry official, who declined to be named.
The Doha, Qatar-based TV network attracted international attention when it broadcast video statements from Osama Bin Laden and other leaders of the Al Qaeda terror group after the attacks on the World Trade Center on 11 September 2001.
Al Jazeera was launched in 1996 with a grant from the Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, who continues to support it through annual grants. Its English language news channel was launched in November 2006.
“We now reach over 120 million households in over 100 countries,” said Tony Burman, managing director of Al Jazeera English. “We are the fastest growing global news channel and we are very much aware of India’s importance as a market as well as the increasing importance of news from India to a global audience.”
Burman joined Al Jazeera in May, after spending 35 years at Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), where he served as editor in chief of CBC News between 2002 and 2007.
The channel is also seeking alliances for content partnership with local Indian news broadcasters in English and other languages, Burman said. “We are in talks with some channels,” he added.
The channel already partners Hindi news channel India TV through a September 2004 deal that allows both channels to broadcast each other’scontent.
“In India, it might be counterproductive as Al Jazeera is perceived to be biased towards a certain region and community,” said the editor of a leading national news network on condition of anonymity. “We, however, might consider it if they give us access to their entire international coverage.”
The network also plans to launch an Urdu news channel primarily targeted at India. “Some segments of our programming is available on the Internet and from the hits we get from India, we know that there is a sizeable audience for Al Jazeera in India,” Burman said.
The channel’s first priority would be to achieve the best possible visibility and reach in India, said Diana Hosker, regional distribution director for Al Jazeera English.
“In India, the space available on the distribution platforms is already very little and getting more crowded by the day,” Hosker said, adding, “When we launch operations here, working around this and achieving good positioning is going to be the biggest challenge.”
Burman said the channel is working to scale up its editorial staff in India.