WASHINGTON, Dec. 4 (UPI) -- Most Americans can't get Al Jazeera English, the new news network that U.S. cable and satellite TV does not yet offer. But Pentagon employees can.
AJE premiered this week on closed circuit Pentagon TV, available to anyone with access to the Pentagon's channel 2, according to Bryan Whitman, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Public Affairs. It launched mid-November with 12 hours a day and will expand to 24 hour coverage in 2007.
"It's a new channel in the international marketplace and it merits at least looking at it," Whitman told Pentagon reporters Friday morning -- in part to spread the word across the Defense Department that AJE is available.
"It's important for the Defense Department when operating in a 21st century environment to have situational awareness of all the different media out there, to know what they are reporting," he said.
That makes DOD one of the few places Al-Jazeera English is broadcast on television in the United States. AJE has been unable to arrange for cable or satellite providers to carry the station.
Whitman said the Pentagon has adopted a "wait and see" attitude before it will schedule appearances by many DOD officials on the new network.
The 10-year old Arabic-language network is controversial for the imagery, stories and messages it carries - including videotapes of al-Qaida leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, graphic footage of dead American soldiers and the attacks that killed them, and anti-Israeli speeches by Iran's president. It is often sharply critical of U.S. foreign policies and the war in Iraq.
However, the Arabic language network is popular in the Middle East and claims 50 million views in 137 countries. The network gets more than half its funding from the emir of Qatar.
Al-Jazeera English's reputation is also tainted by the unaffiliated Web site aljazeera.com, a news site that often shows and runs a daily poll. One recent question was "which do you see as posing a real threat to world stability?" The vast majority answered the policies of U.S. President George W. Bush.