Frost joins list of Britons signing up for al-Jazeera

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The Independent Online

Sir David Frost, recently departed from the BBC 1 Sunday breakfast sofa, was the latest signing this week to al-Jazeera International, the first English language news channel to be based in the Middle East, which launches early next year.

The former Tribune editor Mark Seddon has been hired as UN correspondent based in New York, while Cherie Blair's half-sister, Lauren Booth, has also said she may appear on the channel. Other British journalists on staff include Steve Clark, former ITV director of news, former ITN News At Ten editor John Pullman, and former BBC News executive Paul Gibbs.

But Nigel Parsons, the managing director of al-Jazeera International, was keen to stress that the new channel would be truly international. "We are not Brits abroad, we are not little Englanders," he said, adding that the staff of about 90 people spans 30 different nationalities.

The headquarters of the 24-hour channel will be in the Qatari capital of Doha, with broadcasting centres in London, Washington DC and Kuala Lumpur, and bureaux across the world.

Mr Parsons said: "We are a global channel and we are recruiting people from all over the globe. David [Frost] is high profile, but there are high profile people from the Middle East, Africa and Asia. We are going for as wide a spread as we can.

"Our philosophy is decentralising. We want Africans reporting on Africa and Europeans reporting on Europe. We are here in a tiny country that is geographically very central. It's so small you can't carry a domestic agenda..

"We will have a different perspective on events simply because of where we are coming from. We are in the Middle East, which is probably the news hotspot of the world at the moment and is likely to be for some years to come."

Like all of the channels in the al-Jazeera portfolio - including a children's channel, a sports channel and a documentary channel, as well as the original Arabic news channel - the Qatar government will fund the English news service. The international channel will be given between three and five years to break even.

Mr Parsons insisted that it would be completely impartial. "I don't think being government funded has any implications in terms of freedom. We have had absolutely no interference whatsoever. The BBC is government funded and for me that is one of the most balanced and impartial broadcasters around," he said.

Al-Jazeera was launched in November 1996 with the support of the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani. In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on New York in 2001, the broadcaster gained prominence in non-Arabic countries because of its footage of Osama bin Laden and other al-Qa'ida leaders. It has an estimated worldwide audience of 50 million. The new international channel will have a potential audience of one billion English speakers.

Sir David, who has interviewed the last seven US presidents and the last six British prime ministers, described the job as "a great adventure - the first and perhaps the only brand new international TV news network for the 21st century".

Mr Seddon wrote in The Independent recently: "For conflict, I prefer diplomacy. And al-Jazeera International may be better placed to do that than the religious fundamentalists who snipe at it and each other across the East-West divide."

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