Washington has accused the satellite channel of giving free publicity to fighters now trying to destabilise the US-backed Iraqi government.
“We have no agenda against the Americans,” General Manager Waddah Khanfar said late on Wednesday, at the launch of Aljazeera Arabic channel’s new-look news room.
Code of ethics
He also said: “(Viewers) will discover that we are abiding by a certain kind of professionalism or code of ethics that if it is displayed on any screen, it will be seen as something fair.”
Chairman Shaikh Hamad Bin Thamer Al Thani said: “Aljazeera’s motto has always been ‘the opinion and the counter opinion’ and the English channel will be no different.”
Aljazeera’s graphic coverage of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and its airing of exclusive footage from al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden after the 11 September 2001 attacks on the US gained it millions of viewers in the Arab world.
Its offices in Kabul and in Baghdad have been hit by US fire that Washington said was accidental. It has been banned from reporting in Saudi Arabia.
US, Iraqi accusations
“Aljazeera’s motto has always been ‘the opinion and the counter opinion’ and the English channel will be no different”
Shaikh Hamad Bin Thamer Al-Thani,
The Iraqi government has closed the station’s office in Baghdad, accusing it of supporting fighters. US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld last week accused Aljazeera of encouraging “militant” groups by airing executions.
However, Khanfar said not one killing had been shown on Aljazeera since its launch in 1996.
“The dead bodies, we deal with it much more sensitively, much more than many international networks, including the US.
“We don’t see ourselves part of any propaganda against any country in the world. However, if it is a matter of freedom of expression, Aljazeera has raised all the opinions.”
Aljazeera generally provides airtime to US and Iraqi government officials in its coverage of the crisis that began with the 2003 invasion.
Aljazeera was voted the world’s fifth most influential brand in a poll by online magazine Brandchannel in January. It has an estimated audience of more than 40 million.
The network plans to spend up to $30 million on its English-language service, which would have its own editorial team and would be based in three regional centres. Former CNN journalist Riz Khan will present a programme from Washington.
Aljazeera’s Arabic channel has
Khanfar said the free-to-air English language channel Aljazeera International, due to begin broadcasting next February or March, would not need to tone down coverage because other international networks already show as much violence, if not more.
He cited a video shown at the war crimes trial of former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic of Bosnian Muslims being executed, which was broadcast widely, including in the US.
Senior executives of the Doha-based channel said it might be privatised from 2007, when they hoped to be generating enough revenue to function without backing from the Qatari government, but would insist on keeping editorial independence.
Shaikh Hamad said the board had discussed whether to privatise the channel, but no decision had been made.
“We need one or two years before Aljazeera will be ready for privatisation because we are looking at all our options and this takes time. If Aljazeera is to be floated, it will be in other markets (outside Qatar),” he said.