WTTW ‘excited’ to welcome Al Jazeera news to lineup

Is Chicago ready for the unique global perspective of Al Jazeera? WTTW-Channel 11, the public television station that relies on local viewers for much of its revenue, is betting that the answer is yes.

Starting October 31, the Window to the World Communications station will begin airing Al Jazeera English news programming from 5:30 to 6:30am Saturdays on Channel 11. It also will air it from 6:30 to 7am and from 11 to 11:30pm Monday through Friday on the WTTW Prime digital channel. And that’s just for starters.

Although Al Jazeera English already is accessible online, WTTW touted its announcement Wednesday as the “first foray into mainstream public television in Chicago” for the Qatar-based network.

“WTTW is excited to be adding this important programming to our schedule,” Dan Schmidt, president and CEO of WTTW, said in a statement. “Our station has a long history of providing quality public affairs programming and, by adding broadcasts from Al Jazeera English, we are providing a broader perspective on critical global issues.”

Early next year, WTTW will make additional time slots available, according to the announcement, “which will mean even more exposure for AJE and provide viewers with more opportunities to see the program.” But whether that expansion occurs will depend on the reaction of viewers — and especially donors — in the coming weeks and months.

Since it was founded in 2006 as an offshoot of Al Jazeera Arabic, the English-language network has been struggling to make inroads on American television. Major cable and satellite distributors have refused to carry it, generally citing limited channel space.

Financial details of the arrangement with WTTW were not disclosed, although the New York Times reported that Al Jazeera typically pays a fee in order to be carried by stations and cable channels. It receives funding from the finance ministry of Qatar, though the network says it is not influenced by the Qatari government.

In February, Al Jazeera English began airing on KCET-TV, the Los Angeles public television station that dropped its PBS affiliation one month earlier. In August, the network began leasing 23 hours of daily airtime on RISE, a New York City cable channel carried by Time Warner Cable and Verizon FiOS. It’s also seen on cable outlets in Washington, D.C., Toledo, Ohio, and Burlington, Vermont.

“The U.S. is important for us, both in terms of news and viewership, so this latest development is excellent,” Al Anstey, managing director of Al Jazeera English, said in a statement. “We are the lead provider of stories from regions like Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East, and we are glad to meet the demand for international news in Chicago.”

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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)