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Interview: Sue Phillips on Al Jazeera International's First Year

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Weyman: When the channel set up you really wanted to be broadcast in America, but unfortunately didn’t find a provider to broadcast the channel there.  How much of a blow was that?

Phillips:  Not really, I mean we’re seen in so many other parts of the world and the U.S. is just another country.  It hasn’t changed anything for us.  In fact in lots of ways it has done us a favor because the Americans, by looking at the response on the website, people really want it in America.  They want to see this channel, so I think there’s quite a lobby out there to get Al Jazeera and I think the next few months we’ll probably succeed and get on a cable channel there, but for the time being people have to see it on broadband and that’s looking at that technology most people have access to now. 

Weyman: For a fairly new channel, it’s been a turbulent past month and there are reports that Wadah Khanfar has been edged out of the board.  There are suggestions among media commentators that in fact U.S. pressure is coming to bear on the Qatari emir and that those changes are having an effect in Al Jazeera. 

Phillips: Wadah Khanfar comes under the Al Jazeera network so it’s difficult for me to comment on that, but he still retains his role at the moment and in terms of, I’m not aware of U.S. pressure, I don’t think there’s ever any pressure on if you look at the history of Al Jazeera Arabic over the last eleven years, you know a very bold controversial channel, and I don’t think any pressure from anywhere has ever affected the Qatari government or the emir. 

Weyman:  So you are accountable to the Qatari emir.  Does that impinge on your editorial independence? 

Phillips:  Not at all.  Not at all.  We have editorial boards that the emir or, anybody in the government, has never interfered with, they leave us to do our own business of journalism and we guide our own editorial. 

Weyman:  So what are the challenges for the future?  Can we expect new faces, new programming?

Phillips:  I think we’d like to open up some more bureaus, we’d like to cover even more of the world than we’re covering now, and we will certainly hire more people.  We’re expanding all the time which is great news, and so far, we seem to be getting it right, I’m happy to say. 

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