Dominic Crossley-Holland on Broadcasting

You just have to look at Al Jazeera's resources to discover its potential

My name is Dominic. I'm a newsaholic. I first started experimenting with soft stuff such as Nationwide as a child then graduated to the odd TV news bulletin in my teens. By my early twenties, I was a heavy user but the real abuse began later when I became a full blown 24-hour news junkie.

Now I've put producing and editing News at Ten behind me and the four years I ran a 24-hour news channel feel like part of another life. Although I've long been in rehab, I have to admit the news bug is still in my blood and I like nothing more than the endless coverage of big stories provided by an ever-increasing number of networks.

So, imagine my thrill this week because not one but two new news channels are launching. On Wednesday, Al Jazeera's English-language channel finally takes to the airwaves, followed the next day by France 24 which Jacques Chirac has promised will be a "CNN à la française".

Al Jazeera has rarely been out of the headlines since it launched 10 years ago, having caused endless ructions in the Arab world and generally frightening many in the West. Accused of being a conduit for Osama Bin Laden's messages, of incitement and overly graphic coverage, it has at one time or another been banned from operating in 18 countries, including Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Algeria and Iraq.

President Bush reportedly had to be talked out of bombing its Doha HQ by Tony Blair, and last month David Blunkett revealed that Bush had wanted to bomb the station's Baghdad transmitter as he regarded it as an enemy "propaganda mechanism". Whew! You couldn't buy that sort of publicity- no wonder that in a relatively short time Al Jazeera has become one of the world's most recognisable and influential brands.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the birth of Al Jazeera International has been no less controversial. For a start, there's been an extraordinarily long delay - well over a year - blamed on technical problems in realising ambitious plans to broadcast in high definition from four different hubs each day. On the face of it, this seems a little surprising since CNN International has long switched output between time zones. But having helped launched a news channel myself on rather wobbly digital technology, I have to admit to being rather sympathetic.

Whatever the cause of the delay, the upshot has been that hundreds of experienced journalists and technicians have been left on the sidelines for months on end, enough to strain anybody's morale, let alone the highly motivated TV news types who live to be on air. Given the sort of salaries it is paying, it's perhaps fortuitous that the emir who bankrolls Al Jazeera has pockets as deep as his country's oil and gas reserves.

Then there have been reports of tensions between the longstanding Arab executives on the parent channel and the predominantly English team brought in to oversee its international offspring. The hugely experienced director of news and programming, Steve Clarke, insists there's been "absolutely no interference whatsoever", but evidently feelings do continue to run deep. Only last month, star reporter Yosri Fouda said he felt it would be better to expand Al Jazeera's existing Arabic service - something needed far more badly than yet another channel serving the West.

Al Jazeera International promises it will have broad, international appeal, but with a unique viewpoint. The director general of channels, Wadah Khanfar, says: "We have an edge over the other networks: we're already based in the Middle East. And we have a different perspective." The stated aim is to "reverse the information flow" to English speakers who currently have little choice but to watch Western broadcasters.

Given that the audience for Sky or BBC24 in the UK often only averages low tens of thousand or hundreds of thousands at best, it's unlikely to find a large number of viewers in this country, although those that do watch are likely to include a disproportionate number of opinion-formers. The real potential for the channel is surely the majority of the world's 1.2m Muslims who don't speak Arabic.

The network is also clearly talking up the importance of its role as a forum for the West to speak to the Muslim world, a role recognised by the fact that Sir David Frost hopes to interview Tony Blair for his very first programme on Al Jazeera International this Friday.

Available in 40 million homes from launch, Al Jazeera International clearly aims to take viewers from CNN and BBC World, and, much like its competitors, it will offer a mixture of news and current affairs. In addition to Frost's weekly Frost over the World, Rageh Omar, the BBC's former "Scud stud", will host a daily documentary strand called Witness, and there'll be an interview show called One on One with former CNN anchor Riz Khan. If that all sounds rather familiar, the rolling news segments will also be anchored by reassuring faces such as Darren Jordon and Felicity Barr.

Steve Clarke tells me that one of the real differences will be that Al Jazeera International will "cover more of the developing world than your average 24-hour news channel" and it will aim to get more "clarity and depth" to the coverage.

When I asked him to furnish me with examples, he cited human stories such as showing people what it's really like to live in a Palestinian camp in Lebanon or for a farmer trying to buy a tractor in Zimbabwe. You just have to look at the resources to see Al Jazeera has the potential to deliver on this. Overall, Clarke says he has 700 staff at his disposal, more than 300 of them journalists; in Africa alone, Al Jazeera International has 12 bureaux, five of them dedicated.

As to the vexed debate about impartiality, Sir David Frost is believed to have received a guarantee of editorial control over his programme, with other high-profile signings apparently having similar deals. As he puts the finishing touches to next week's launch, Clarke is absolutely clear that the new channel will first and foremost have to prove its absolute accuracy, integrity and impartiality. "We'll have to make all this clear early on, a lot of people will be watching. Although it probably won't be good enough for some," he says.

Along with many others in the news business, I have for many years watched the professionalism and bravery of Al Jazeera's journalists. Although I haven't always agreed with the channel's decisions, it has covered a serious agenda with a fresh voice and perspective. An impressive team has been assembled with the resources to really make a difference. We'll soon finally see whether it's been worth the wait.

Personally, as a news junkie, I can't wait to get my fix.

There's no such thing as a goldplated, guaranteed hit

Networks hate to pull programmes but a flop is a flop is a (big) flop, and boy has it been a big week for flops.

In recent years, ITV has shown the most ruthless streak in dropping shows before they inflict too much collateral damage. Commercial schedules allow absolutely no leeway for programmes that don't cut the mustard so the usual practice is for the schedulers to wheel out a worthy "banker" to plug the gap such as an old Midsomer Murders or the umpteenth run of a James Bond film. But now it's Channel 4's turn with its much-hyped drama Goldplated (above) being shunted to the graveyard slot of 11.15pm. And the top brass at Channel 4's Horseferry Road HQ are also considering moving the Friday night gameshow Unanimous, which flopped in a similar vein, to the less pressurised 8pm slot.

But the real action's been across the Atlantic where our very own Eamonn Holmes has become the latest British presenter to come a cropper, with Fox axeing his The Rich List gameshow from primetime after just a single episode.

If any further proof were needed of Eamonn's diminished stature on American TV then look no further than the publicity shots to promote The Rich List. They appear to have been airbrushed to make him look younger and thinner, not that it helped much.

A real case of being big over here but perhaps not quite as big over there.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
Arts and Entertainment
Poet’s corner: Philip Larkin at the venetian window of his home in 1958
booksOr caring, playful man who lived for others? A new book has the answer
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
Matthew McConaughey and his son Levi at the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on August 17, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.
advertisingOscar-winner’s Lincoln deal is latest in a lucrative ad production line
Life and Style
Pick of the bunch: Sudi Pigott puts together roasted tomatoes with peppers, aubergines and Labneh cheese for a tomato-inspired vegetarian main dish
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel you sales role is li...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £45000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Key featuresA highly motivated ...

Creative Content Executive (writer, social media, website)

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum + 25 days holiday and bonus: Clearwater People Solut...

Legal Recruitment Consultant

Highly Competitive Salary + Commission: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL BASED - DEALING ...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape