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Al-Jazeera America plans live programming 24/7

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press
Wednesday, July 24, 2013 - 9:05 am

NEW YORK — Al-Jazeera America's incoming president said Tuesday that people interested in news will get live programming whenever they tune in, even in the middle of the night on a weekend.

The new cable news network will debut Aug. 20, replacing programming on what is now Current TV. Its executives are beginning the process of defining what will make Al-Jazeera America different from existing news programming on CNN, Fox News Channel, MSNBC and the broadcast networks.

"We are going to be live, and we are going to be live 24-7," Kate O'Brian, a longtime ABC News executive appointed this week as Al-Jazeera America's president, said in an interview.

Cable news networks have occasionally been criticized for being slow to respond when news happens late at night or on the weekend — most recently when a Texas state senator held a filibuster to block abortion legislation. Reruns of daytime programs are often run overnight.

O'Brian and the network's interim chief executive officer, Ehab Al Shihabi, said the network will aim at establishing itself with serious, in-depth reporting that does not take political sides.

"If you need infotainment, that's not Al Jazeera," Al Shihabi said.

The network will have 12 domestic bureaus when it starts and will also have access to more than 70 international bureaus as part of the worldwide Al-Jazeera company. Its new executives suggested that the deep-pocketed Al Jazeera, based in Qatar, could immediately give the new U.S. network an edge in covering stories from across the country.

"We'll be able to put on stories that some of our competitors will think twice about doing" for cost reasons, said O'Brian, who is leaving her job as senior vice president for news at ABC to take over operations at Al-Jazeera America.

She suggested the personality-oriented programming of current cable news networks, where most hours are filled with a show that reflects the views or judgments of a single host, won't be Al-Jazeera's model. Of course, the new network is starting with only a smattering of personalities familiar to most American news viewers, including Ali Velshi and Sheila MacVicar.

"We take our talent very seriously, but we are not into the cult of personality," O'Brian said.

Although Al-Jazeera has run an English-language network since 2006, it has been seen mostly online by U.S. viewers. Al-Jazeera had trouble convincing U.S. cable and satellite operators to carry it and needed the purchase of former Vice President Al Gore's Current TV to give it space on most systems.

Although executives listened to many recommendations to take "Al-Jazeera" out of its name to reach a U.S. audience, Al Shihabi said they resisted. For one thing, the company had built up a reputation worldwide for its product that it did not want to lose.

"We didn't want to come through the back door," he said. "We wanted to be Al Jazeera and come in through the front door."