Al Jazeera finds culture gap

Everyone’s favourite Arabic news channel launches in English tomorrow, months late, and not without problems, which apparently even an Arab Emir with bottomless stashes of cash can not solve.

There have been rifts about style and it has failed to get cable distribution in the US. Bad news. Still it is estimated it will reach 80m homes around the world. It’s available on Sky in the UK.

A story in the Evening Standard today says that British staff working for the new English language channel drank so much alcohol that they were ordered to undergo special “cultural awareness” training on how to behave in a Muslim country.

Clearly the Sultans of Arabic news didn’t realise that drinking alcohol is considered journalistic training in the UK.

Not to worry, the presenters and producers hired on lucrative taxfree salaries to launch Al-Jazeera International were lectured by Islamic groups on “appropriate behaviour” after a series of marathon drinking sessions in Qatar, where the new service is based.

The channel’s owner, the Emir of Qatar, is understood to have personally ordered the move.

Sources based at Al-Jazeera’s Doha headquarters say that a clash of cultures is causing a damaging rift between the largely-Muslim workforce on the Arabic service and the predominantly-British recruits to AJI.

Al Jazeera is, of course, best known for running footage released by al Qaeda, including videos of Osama Bin Laden and 7/7 bomber Shehzad Tanweer. The Arabic channel controversially refers to Palestinian suicide bombers as “shaheeds” (martyrs) and has been accused by the Bush administration of being an Islamist propaganda tool.

Interestingly the new English language channel has already faced accusations of “selling its soul” to the West.

The Standard says that list of critics including former employees, Right and Leftwing bloggers and Muslim commentators, have all predicted a disastrous future for the fledgling channel as it attempts to crossover into the mainstream.