Al Jazeera comes to Swiss cable

Al Jazeera runs an operation that can compete with other major international news broadcasters Keystone

The English-language broadcasts of the controversial Arab-funded news channel Al Jazeera are now available on Switzerland's biggest cable network.

This content was published on April 1, 2007 - 16:09

Cablecom has introduced the station as part of its revamped basic digital service launched on Sunday in the German-speaking part of the country.

The introduction of Al Jazeera as part of the line-up comes less than five months after the broadcaster went on air. For Cablecom the decision was straightforward.

"We already have a large number of news channels as part of our offer, so it was normal to add another international broadcaster," said Martin Wüthrich, Cablecom spokesman. "It gives us another perspective."

Al Jazeera will be offered at no extra cost – although users will need to rent a decoder - along with ten other channels including France 24, the official French news broadcaster. Altogether the basic service will provide 93 channels to choose from.

"With the new channels, we wanted to strike a balance so that there is something for everyone," Wüthrich told swissinfo. "It's simply an extra service for our viewers."

The new basic service will be rolled out across the entire country at a later date.

Cablecom is upgrading its offer as its comes under pressure from new competitors, including internet.

Bluewin, the web service of Switzerland's biggest telecommunications specialist, Swisscom, has for example been offering its pioneering television over internet service since late 2006.

Cablecom was also recently criticised for dropping some stations from its analogue offer. It was forced to backtrack after the government stepped in, saying that the provider could not force viewers to rent a digital decoder.

Courting controversy

Al Jazeera has already been accessible for the owners of satellite dishes in Switzerland since its launch in November.

The English and Arabic language broadcasts have also been distributed by cable provider Naxoo in Geneva and canton Valais since then, but require a special subscription.

Al Jazeera, which is based in Qatar, was launched in 1996 with the substantial financial backing of the local emir.

Its arrival and distribution via satellite ruffled a few feathers in the Arab world with its willingness to broadcast views that were not those of the region's leaders. The station came to worldwide attention after September 11 when it broadcast video statements from Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders.

While the United States had previously lauded the broadcaster for its independence, the Americans accused it of being the instrument of terrorist propaganda.

The station's coverage of the war in Iraq has also attracted criticism in the US and Britain, and since 2004, its office in Baghdad has been shut down by the authorities. Some of the company's employees have also been accused of aiding terrorists, claims it has always denied.

Controversy seems to be less a problem in Switzerland though. A Naxoo spokeswoman told swissinfo that the cable operator had received no complaints about the fact that it was providing Al Jazeera as part of its services.

swissinfo, Scott Capper

In brief

Cablecom is Switzerland's biggest cable operator.

It serves 1.5 million households across the country and employs 1,500 people.

It gives access to digital and analogue radio and television broadcasts via its network, but it is also an internet provider and supplies phone services.

It was purchased by American group Liberty Global, a broadband specialist, for SFr2.82 billion in 2005.

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Al Jazeera

Al Jazeera is a television network with its headquarters in Doha, Qatar.

It was initially launched as an Arabic news and current affairs satellite television channel, but has since expanded into a network of several specialty channels.

Thanks to a $150 million (SFr183 million) grant from the Emir of Qatar, it benefited from a level of freedom of speech generally unheard of in the Gulf region. The views it airs have often upset leaders, unused to criticism, across the Middle East and North Africa.

In 2003, Al Jazeera hired its first English-language journalist and launched a website for non-Arabic speakers.

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