Television

Al Jazeera to go public; US pressure seen as being involved

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MUMBAI: Al Jazeera - possibly the most controversial media entity of the recent times in the Middle East, and a wholly financed company by the Qatari government - is accelerating plans to sell off the channel to private buyers. In order to maintain a certain control over editorial content, the channel is even contemplating going public.

The move is widely perceived as being influenced by increasing pressure from the US authorities, more so because Qatar is a key ally of the the Bush administration in the region.

As regards the quantum of equity that will be open to the public, Qatari government spokesperson Jihad Ballut has been quoted by AFP as saying: "There will be restrictions in the shares offer and we don't know (yet) if it will be on offer locally, regionally or internationally."

According to reports in sections of Arab and Western media, a spokesperson for the channel said that the form of privatisation would be decided over the coming months.

Media reports suggest that the task of the channel would be to explore the best possibility for a sell out. The reason sighted by senior Qatari officials is that the pressure has been so intense that "We really have a headache, not just from the United States but from advertisers and from other countries as well."

The government is accelerating plans to put Al Jazeera on the market. Though Bush administration officials counter that a privately owned station in the region may be no better from their point of view.

The channel's audience range has been estimated to be approximately 30 million to 50 million. Despite a wide audience; the reach does not translate into profitability, and the station relies vastly on subsidy from the Qatari government. The official is also quoted saying that Qatar hoped to find a buyer within a year.

The channel gained popularity after displaying taped messages of Osama Bin Laden and anti Bush reports during and post Afghanistan and Iraq war. Qatari sponsored channel has been criticised largely by the US authorities for broadcasting inflammatory information against US.

The channel is planning to launch an English-language channel, Al Jazeera International and also to start up a documentary channel and kids' channel in 2005.

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