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July 31, 2007

Al Jazeera seeking to broadcast in Singapore
Arabic news channel Al Jazeera said it hopes to get the go-ahead from the Singapore government to broadcast in the city-state by year-end, following talks that began early this year, Reuters reported.

Nigel Parsons, managing director of the Qatar-based Al Jazeera English channel, was quoted as telling Reuters that Singapore was cautious about allowing it to broadcast because of criticism of the channel in the United States.

"We are still not available in Singapore because we are undergoing a very long monitoring process," Parsons told Reuters in a phone interview from Doha on Monday. "We are not the devil incarnate. We understand we have to be patient."

Al Jazeera, which attracted millions of viewers after it aired exclusive footage from al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks, has been accused by US leaders of biased reporting on Iraq and supporting terrorism.

"Yes, we will freely admit to having sympathies for the occupied people of Palestine, for example, but when we do stories about that region, they are always balanced," said Parsons, who will be in Singapore next week for the Global Brand Forum along with former US Vice President Al Gore.

Singapore's Media Development Authority (MDA) said on July 31 that it was still assessing the Al Jazeera channels. "As with all foreign channels, the authorities will need to make assessments based on criteria such as public expectations and interest, as well as the ability to meet local programme standards," said Amy Chua, director of media content at MDA, in an email.

Several of Singapore's neighbours, including Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines, broadcast Al Jazeera English. The channel can also be watched online via streaming. A close ally of the United States, Singapore has tight controls over its media.

The government is particularly sensitive about racial and religious issues, given that Singapore's two biggest neighbours, Malaysia and Indonesia, are predominantly Muslim.

Singapore's population is a mix of ethnic Chinese, Indians and Malays, with the latter accounting for about 14 percent.

Parsons declined to say what issues concerned the Singapore authorities. He said that the channel was closely monitored by the South African government for a few months before it was allowed to broadcast in that country.

Funded by Qatar's Emir, or leader, Al Jazeera English was launched in November to report world news from a Middle East perspective and challenge the dominance of Western media.

Parsons said the channel, which has broadcasting centres in Kuala Lumpur, London and Washington, has a reach of about 100 million households around the world, and is expected to break even in three to five years. Reuters

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