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The New Al Jazeera: More ESPN, Less CNN

The Middle Eastern network shifts its focus to sports programming
The New Al Jazeera: More ESPN, Less CNN
Photo illustration by 731; Soccer ball: Getty Images

Remember Al Jazeera, the network that was supposed to be an Arab CNN, offering a counterweight to Western cable news? That plan appears to have been scaled back as the Qatari government-controlled network makes deep cuts in its English-language news-gathering operations and shifts its focus to sports. The gas-rich emirate’s English news channel has cut or relocated at least 200 staffers as it tightens its budget and centralizes editorial control in Qatar’s capital of Doha, current and former employees say. Plans for a Swahili-language news channel to serve East Africa have also been dropped, according to two current employees who are not authorized to discuss company operations.

The reformulated Al Jazeera is building up its presence in a more lucrative corner of the media world: European soccer. Al Jazeera has set up a new sports network, BeIN Sport, as the emirate prepares to host the World Cup in 2022. It’s buying exclusive rights to broadcast popular games in the U.S. and France, which could help drive up programming costs for sports broadcasters such as Vivendi’s Canal Plus and News Corp.’s Fox Entertainment Group.