Correction to This Article
An Oct. 8 article erroneously attributed a ban on al-Jazeera reporters in Iraq to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. The decision was made by the U.S.-installed Iraqi Governing Council, and Pentagon officials say they had no involvement.

Al-Jazeera Finds Its English Voice

David Frost, interviewing Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for the BBC in February, will host a weekly interview show for al-Jazeera International.
David Frost, interviewing Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for the BBC in February, will host a weekly interview show for al-Jazeera International. (By Jeff Overs -- Bbc Via Reuters)

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By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 8, 2005

Al-Jazeera, which is launching an English-language network with Washington as a major hub, has landed its first big-name Western journalist: David Frost. And the veteran BBC interviewer says he's perfectly comfortable with the unlikely marriage.

"I love new frontiers and new challenges," Frost, 66, said yesterday from London. He said the new network, al-Jazeera International, has promised him "total editorial control" and that he had checked out the company with U.S. and British government officials, "all of which gave al-Jazeera a clean bill of health in terms of its lack of links with terrorism."

But the Bush administration has repeatedly denounced al-Jazeera. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has accused the Qatar-based operation of promoting terrorism and "vicious lies" and has banned its reporters from Iraq. The State Department has complained about "false" and "inflammatory" reporting.

Said Frost, who will host a weekly interview program: "For all the people who think it's anti-American, there are various countries in the Middle East who think it's too pro-Western. I would say the jury's out on al-Jazeera. Obviously, we all suffer from the handicap of not being able to sit there and watch in Arabic."

The Thursday announcement of the hiring of Frost, who will continue to work for the BBC, comes as al-Jazeera is looking for a few good Americans -- anchors, correspondents and producers -- for the network as it prepares to launch early next year. From a nondescript office building on K Street, where an armed guard mans the lobby, staffers have been calling television agents about their clients. But a number of those approached, including several well-known personalities whose agent would not identify them by name, have quickly rebuffed the overture.

"Some are a bit leery," said Nigel Parsons, the former staffer for BBC and Associated Press Television News who is running al-Jazeera International. "There is an image problem to be overcome."

Al-Jazeera's reputation wasn't helped when a Spanish court last month sentenced former correspondent Taysir Alouni to seven years in prison on charges of collaborating with al Qaeda.

But such developments have not deterred some recruits. Josh Rushing, a former Marine spokesman for the U.S. Central Command in Qatar who was featured in the documentary "Control Room," is joining as a reporter, as first reported by USA Today.

Parsons dismisses the U.S. criticism and says Rumsfeld wrongly accused the network of airing pictures of beheadings.

"We're certainly not anti-West or anti-American," he said. Parsons said the network is "not always the first recipient" of Osama bin Laden's videotaped threats, and while it does air what it deems newsworthy excerpts, "it's slightly hypocritical to say we run them and no one else does." As for Middle East coverage, "people forget most Arabs had never seen an Israeli before al-Jazeera, and we allow Israelis to give their side of the story."

At a minimum, al-Jazeera offers a different perspective. Recent stories on its English-language Web site were headlined "Al-Qaeda in Iraq says two marines killed," "Israel accused of skewing elections" and "Hamas: U.S., Israel provoking tensions." An article on Alouni says he was the only journalist based on Afghanistan "to show the world what the U.S. war machine was doing to one of the world's poorest countries."

Al-Jazeera International plans for the Washington bureau to broadcast four hours of programming each day, with London, Kuala Lampur, Malaysia, and Doha, Qatar, handling the rest of the load.


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