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Al-Jazeera launches children's channel to teach tolerance

The Al-Jazeera Arab satellite channel was to launch a new children's channel to combine entertainment with teaching tolerance. The "Al-Jazeera Children's Channel" hopes to be a first in the Arab world, as the Qatar-based television network bids to overcome criticism by the United States and conservative Arab regimes over alleged bias in its news broadcasts.

"It will take some time," said the executive director, Mahmoud Buneb, who stressed that this channel will be "different." "This is not an indoctrination tool ... to shock or gratuitously provoke is out of the question," he said.

Arabic-language children's programing can already be seen on MBC3, a Saudi-based channel that belongs to Al-Jazeera's rival Al-Arabiyya, and satellite dishes make Cartoon Network-type shows widely available.

But the goal of Al-Jazeera's youth channel is to teach modern values such as open-mindedness and tolerance to Arab children age three to 15 and

their families, organizers said.

"We are embarking on a television project that will, we hope, be viewed by television viewers, families and children alike," Buned said.

But there are "no taboos," he said, citing an upcoming program on female genital circumcision featuring women who were victims of the practice.

The channel has been in the works for three years, and is a joint venture between Al-Jazeera and the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development, the latter which owns 90 percent and is a publicly-funded organisation headed by the wife of Qatar's emir.

"It's a private company but with a public service mission and is publicly funded," said Jean Rouilly, CEO of Lagardere International Images, a branch of the French company Lagardere which came up with the idea for the channel. Rouilly said the channel has no intention of competing with cartoons or already-existing Arabic-language children's programming that is solely aimed to entertain.

Describing the new broadcast as a "educational fun," Rouilly said criteria for programming on the new Al-Jazeera channel asks: "Does it bring something to children?" in contrast to other shows that ask: "Will it please them?" He said the channel is "unique" because according to him, no other channel in the world ever had the means to produce entertaining programing that is also educational.

The channel plans to broadcast six hours of daily programing and will be on air 18 hours a day during the week and 19 hours on the weekend.

The ability to use Al-Jazeera's name and logo and to broadcast across Al-Jazeera's satellite reach should allow the channel to gain quick recognition across the Arab world. The channel will be broadcast in the 21 Arab countries and the Palestinian territories on Arabsat and Nilesat, and also throughout Europe on Hotbird.

Beirut,09 12 2005
Redaction
The Daily Star
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