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Al Jazeera (Arabic: الجزيرة al-ǧazīrah IPA: [æl dʒæˈziːrɐ], literally “The Island”, abbreviating “The [Arabian] Peninsula“), also known as Aljazeera and JSC (Jazeera Satellite Channel), is a Qatari broadcaster owned by the Al Jazeera Media Network and headquartered in Doha, Qatar. Initially launched as an Arabic news and current affairs satellite TV channel, Al Jazeera has since expanded into a network with several outlets, including the Internet and specialty TV channels in multiple languages. Al Jazeera is accessible in several world regions. Al Jazeera is owned by the government of Qatar. While Al Jazeera officials have stated that they are editorially independent from the government of Qatar, this assertion has been disputed.
The original Al Jazeera channel’s willingness to broadcast dissenting views, for example on call-in shows, created controversies in the Arab States of the Persian Gulf. The station gained worldwide attention following the outbreak of war in Afghanistan, when it was the only channel to cover the war live, from its office there.
In the 2000s, the network was praised by the Index on Censorship for circumventing censorship and contributing to the free exchange of information in the Arab world, and by the Webby Awards, who nominated it as one of the five best news web sites, along with BBC News, National Geographic and The Smoking Gun. It was also voted by Brandchannel readers as the fifth most influential global brand behind Apple, Google, Ikeaand Starbucks. In 2011, Salon.com said Al Jazeera’s coverage of the 2011 Egyptian protests was superior to that of the American news media. Hillary Clinton stated that the US was losing the information war as “Al Jazeera has been the leader in that [they] are literally changing people’s minds and attitudes. And like it or hate it, it is really effective,” she said.”
In Arabic, al-ǧazīrah literally means “the island”. However, it refers here to the Arabian Peninsula, which is شبه الجزيرة العربية šibh al-ğazīrah al-ʿarabiyyah, abbreviated to الجزيرة العربية al-ğazīrah al-ʿarabiyyah.
Al Jazeera Satellite Channel was launched on 1 November 1996 following the closure of the BBC’s Arabic language television station, a joint venture with Orbit Communications Company. The BBC channel had closed after a year and a half when the Saudi government attempted to suppress a documentary on executions under sharia law.
The Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa, provided a loan of QAR 500 million ($137 million) to sustain Al Jazeera through its first five years, as Hugh Miles detailed in his book Al Jazeera: The Inside Story of the Arab News Channel That Is Challenging the West. Shares were held by private investors as well as the Qatar government.
Al Jazeera’s first day on the air was 1 November 1996. It offered 6 hours of programming per day; this would increase to 12 hours by the end of 1997. It was broadcast to the immediate neighborhood as a terrestrial signal, and on cable, as well as through satellites (which was also free to users in the Arab world). Ironically Qatar, like many other Arab countries, barred private individuals from having satellite dishes until 2001.
At the time of Al Jazeera’s launch, Arabsat was the only satellite broadcasting to the Middle East, and for the first year could only offer Al Jazeera a weak C-band transponder that needed a large satellite dish for reception. A more powerful KU-band transponder became available as a peace-offering after its user, Canal France International, accidentally beamed 30 minutes of pornography into ultraconservative Sa`udi Arabia.
Al Jazeera was not the first such broadcaster in the Middle East; a number had appeared since the Arabsat satellite, a Sa`udi Arabia-based venture of 21 Arab governments, took orbit in 1985. The unfolding of Operation Desert Storm on CNN International underscored the power of live television in current events. While other local broadcasters in the region would assiduously avoid material embarrassing to their home governments (Qatar had its own official TV station as well), Al Jazeera was pitched as an impartial news source and platform for discussing issues relating to the Arab world.
In presenting “The opinion and the other opinion” (the station’s motto), it did not take long for Al Jazeera to shock local viewers by presenting Israelis speaking Hebrew on Arab TV for the first time. Lively and far-ranging talk shows, particularly a popular, confrontational one called The Opposite Direction, were a constant source of controversy regarding issues of morality and religion. This prompted a torrent of criticism from the conservative voices among the region’s press. It also led to official complaints and censures from neighboring governments. Some jammed Al Jazeera’s terrestrial broadcast or expelled its correspondents. In 1999, the Algerian government reportedly cut power to several major cities in order to censor one broadcast. There were also commercial repercussions; Sa`udi Arabia reportedly pressured advertisers to avoid the channel, to great effect. Al Jazeera was also becoming a favorite sounding board for militant groups such as Hamas and Chechen separatists.
Al Jazeera was the only international news network to have correspondents in Iraq during the Operation Desert Fox bombing campaign in 1998. In a precursor of a pattern to follow, its exclusive video clips were highly prized by Western media.
January 1, 1999 was Al Jazeera’s first day of 24-hour broadcasting. Employment had more than tripled in one year to 500 employees, and the agency had bureaus at a dozen sites as far as EU and Russia. Its annual budget was estimated at about $25 million at the time.
However controversial, Al Jazeera was rapidly becoming one of the most influential news agencies in the region. Eager for news beyond the official versions of events, Arabs became dedicated viewers. A 2000 estimate pegged nightly viewership at 35 million, ranking Al Jazeera first in the Arab world, over the Saudi Arabia-sponsored Middle East Broadcasting Centre (MBC) and London’s Arab News Network (ANN). There were about 70 satellite or terrestrial channels being broadcast to the Middle East, most of them in Arabic. Al Jazeera launched a free Arabic language web site in January 2001. In addition, the TV feed was soon available in United Kingdom for the first time via British Sky Broadcasting.
Al Jazeera came to the attention of many in the West during the hunt for Osama bin Laden and the Taliban in Afghanistan after the September 11 attacks on the United States. It aired videos it received from Osama bin Laden and the Taliban, deeming new footage of the world’s most wanted fugitives to be newsworthy. Some criticized the network for giving a voice to terrorists. Al Jazeera’s Washington, D.C. bureau chief, Hafez al-Mirazi compared the situation to that of the Unabomber‘s messages in The New York Times. The network said it had been given the tapes because it had a large Arab audience.
Many other TV networks were eager to acquire the same footage. CNN International had exclusive rights to it for six hours before other networks could broadcast, a provision that was broken by the others on at least one controversial occasion. Prime Minister Tony Blair soon appeared on an Al Jazeera talk show on 14 November 2001 to state Britain’s case for pursuing the Taliban intoAfghanistan.
Al Jazeera’s prominence rose during the war in Afghanistan because it had opened a bureau in Kabul before the war began. This gave it better access for videotaping events than other networks, which bought Al Jazeera’s footage, sometimes for as much as $250,000.
The Kabul office was destroyed by United States bombs in 2001. Looking to stay ahead of possible future conflicts, Al Jazeera then opened bureaus in other troubled spots.
The network remained dependent on government support in 2002, with a budget of $40 million and ad revenues of about $8 million. It also took in fees for sharing its news feed with other networks. It had an estimated 45 million viewers around the world. Al Jazeera soon had to contend with a new rival, Al Arabiya, an offshoot of the Middle East Broadcasting Center, which was set up in nearby Dubai with Sa`udi financial backing.
Before and during the United States-led invasion of Iraq, where Al Jazeera had a presence since 1997, the network’s facilities and footage were again highly sought by international networks. The channel and its web site also were seeing unprecedented attention from viewers looking for alternatives to embedded reporting and military press conferences.
Al Jazeera moved its sports coverage to a new, separate channel in 1 November 2003, allowing for more news and public affairs programming on the original channel. An English language web site had launched earlier in the year. The channel had about 1,300 to 1,400 employees, its newsroom editor told The New York Times. There were 23 bureaus around the world and 70 foreign correspondents, with 450 journalists in all.
On 1 April 2003, a United States plane fired on Al Jazeera’s Baghdad bureau, killing reporter Tareq Ayyoub. The attack was called a mistake; however, Qatar had supplied the US with a precise map of the location of the bureau in order to spare it from attack.
Twenty-two members of staff of Al Jazeera’s Egyptian bureau announced their resignation on 8 July 2013, citing bias coverage of the ongoing Egyptian power redistribution in favour of the Muslim Brotherhood. In January 2013 a former New Editor at Al Jazeera, who was from Syria, and had been at Al Jazeera for “nearly a decade” was fired without cause given, but in an interview stated their belief that it was linked to his/her resistance of ongoing strong pressure to conform to biased coverage of the Syrian civil war. The former Editor stated that the Muslim Brotherhood was “controlling the Syrian file at Al-Jazeera” with both organizations biasing news coverage in favour of the Brotherhood ousting the Syrian government of Assad by force and warning the then-editor “the majority [in Syria] is with the Muslim Brotherhood and [taking power] is within our grasp” so “thank your god if you get a pardon when we become the government.” The source named the names of several other former employees who resigned in protest, including director of the Berlin bureau Aktham Sleiman, a Syrian, “who was, at the beginning, with the [Syrian] opposition” but resisted what the interviewee terms the “lies and despicable [political and ethnic] sectarianism” and concluded that “Al-Jazeera has lied and is still lying” about Syria and in favour of armed overthrow and of the Muslim Brotherhood.
In August, 2013, Memri translated an August 17, 2013 clip from Al Jazeera, in which Gamal Nasser, a former Muslim Brotherhood official and Al Jazeera commentator, said that General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is “of Jewish origin” and “implementing a Zionist plan to divide Egypt.”
Lawsuit against AT&T
Al Jazeera said it is suing AT&T because of a contract dispute.
The original Al Jazeera channel was started in 1 November 1996 by an emiri decree with a loan of 500 million Qatari riyals (US$137 million) from the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa. By its funding through loans or grants rather than direct government subsidies, the channel claims to maintain independent editorial policy. The channel began broadcasting in late 1996, with many staff joining from the BBC World Service‘s Saudi-co-owned Arabic language TV station, which had shut down in 1 April 1996 after two years of operation because of censorship demands by the Saudi Arabian government. The Al Jazeera logo is a decorative representation of the network’s name written using Arabic calligraphy. It was selected by the station’s founder, Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa, as the winning entry in a design competition.
Wadah Khanfar, Former Director General of the Al Jazeera Network
Al Jazeera restructured its operations to form a network that contains all their different channels. Wadah Khanfar, the then managing director of the Arabic Channel, was appointed as the director general of the Al Jazeera Network. He also acted as the managing director of the Arabic Channel. Khanfar resigned on 20 September 2011 proclaiming that he had achieved his original goals, and that 8 years was enough time for any leader of an organization, in an interview aired on Al Jazeera English. Ahmed bin Jassim Al Thani replaced Khanfar and served as the director general of the channel from September 2011 to June 2013 when he was appointed minister of economy and trade. The chairman of the channel is Hamad bin Thamer Al Thani.
The editor-in-chief of the Arabic website is Mustafa Soug who replaced Ahmed Sheikh. It has more than 100 editorial staff. The managing director of Al Jazeera English is Al Anstey. The Editor-in-Chief of the English-language site is Mohamed Nanabhay who has run the site since 2009. Previous editors have included Beat Witschi and Russell Merryman.
Prominent on-air personalities include Faisal al-Qassem, host of the talk show The Opposite Direction, Ahmed Mansour, host of the show Without Borders (bi-la Hudud) and Sami Haddad.
Its former Iran and Beirut Bureau Chief was Ghassan bin Jiddo. He became an influential figure on Al Jazeera with his program Hiwar Maftuh, one of the most frequently watched programs. He also interviewed Nasrallah in 2007 and produced a documentary about Hezbollah. Some suggested that he would even replace Wadah Khanfar. However, bin Jiddo resigned from his job after political disagreements with the station.
Many governments in the Middle East deploy state-run media or government censorship to impact local media coverage and public opinion, leading to international objections regarding press freedom and biased media coverage. Some scholars and commentators use the notion of contextual objectivity, which highlights the tension between objectivity and audience appeal, to describe the station’s controversial yet popular news approach.
Increasingly, Al Jazeera’s exclusive interviews and other footage are being rebroadcast in American, British, and other western media outlets such as CNN and the BBC. In January 2003, the BBC announced that it had signed an agreement with Al Jazeera for sharing facilities and information, including news footage.
Al Jazeera’s availability (via satellite) throughout the Middle East changed the television landscape of the region. Prior to the arrival of Al Jazeera, many Middle Eastern citizens were unable to watch TV channels other than state-controlled national TV stations. Al Jazeera introduced a level of freedom of speech on TV that was previously unheard of in many of these countries. Al Jazeera presented controversial views regarding the governments of many Arab states in the Persian Gulf area, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar; it also presented controversial views about Syria‘s relationship with Lebanon, and the Egyptian judiciary. Critics accused Al Jazeera of sensationalism in order to increase its audience share. Al Jazeera’s broadcasts have sometimes resulted in drastic action: for example, when, on 27 January 1999, critics of the Algerian government appeared on the channel’s live program El-Itidjah el-Mouakass (“The Opposite Direction”), the Algerian government cut the electricity supply to large parts of the capital Algiers (and allegedly also to large parts of the country), to prevent the program from being seen.
At that time, Al Jazeera was not yet generally known in the Western world, but where it was known, opinion was often favourable and Al Jazeera claimed to be the only politically independent television station in the Middle East. However, it was not until late 2001 that Al Jazeera achieved worldwide recognition, when it broadcast video statements by al-Qaeda leaders.
Some observers have argued that Al Jazeera has formidable authority as an opinion-maker. Noah Bonsey and Jeb Koogler, for example, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review, argue that the way in which the station covers any future Israeli-Palestinian peace deal could well determine whether or not that deal is actually accepted by the Palestinian public. To learn more about freedom of speech go to the link below: