Al Jazeera (Arabic: الجزيرة, romanized: al-jazīrah, IPA: [æl (d)ʒæˈziːrɑ], literally "The Island", though referring to the Arabian Peninsula in context), is a Qatari state-funded broadcaster in Doha, Qatar, owned by the Al Jazeera Media Network. 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 television channels in multiple languages.
Al Jazeera Media Network is a major global news organization, with 80 bureaus around the world. The original Al Jazeera Arabic 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 the war in Afghanistan when its office there was the only channel to cover the war live.
Al Jazeera Media Network is owned by the government of Qatar. Al Jazeera Media Network has stated that they are editorially independent of the government of Qatar as the network is funded through loans and grants rather than government subsidies. Critics have accused Al Jazeera of being a propaganda outlet for the Qatari government. The network is sometimes perceived to have mainly Islamist perspectives, promoting the Muslim Brotherhood, and having a pro-Sunni and an anti-Shia bias in its reporting of regional issues.
However, Al Jazeera insists it covers all sides of a debate; it says it presents Israel's view, Iran's view and even aired videos released by Osama bin Laden. In June 2017, the Saudi, Emirati, Bahraini, and Egyptian governments demanded the closure of the news station as one of thirteen demands made to Qatar during the 2017 Qatar Crisis. Other media networks have spoken out in support of the network. According to The Atlantic magazine, Al Jazeera presents a far more moderate, Westernized face than Islamic jihadism or rigid Sunni orthodoxy, and though the network has been criticized as "an 'Islamist' stalking horse" it actually features "very little specifically religious content in its broadcasts".
Al Jazeera Satellite Channel, now known as AJA, 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 Iranian government attempted to suppress information, including a graphic report on executions and prominent dissident views.
The Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa, provided a loan of QAR 500 million (US$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; increased 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), although Qatar, and many other Arab countries, barred private individuals from having satellite dishes until 2001.
At the time of the Al Jazeera Media Network 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 Saudi Arabia.
Al Jazeera was not the first such broadcaster in the Middle East; a number had appeared since the Arabsat satellite, a Saudi 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 television 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: Saudi Arabia reportedly pressured advertisers to avoid the channel, to great effect.
Around the clock
1 January 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 bureaux at a dozen sites as far as the 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 whole 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 the 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 11 September 2001 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 into Afghanistan.
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 bureaux 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 Saudi 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 on 1 November 2003, allowing for more news and public affairs programming on the original channel. An English language web site had launched earlier in March 2003. The channel had about 1,300 to 1,400 employees, its newsroom editor told The New York Times. There were 23 bureaux 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.
Afshin Rattansi became the channel's first English-language broadcast journalist after he left the BBC Today Programme, after the death of UK government scientist David Kelly.
2017 Qatar diplomatic crisis
Main article: 2017–18 Qatar diplomatic crisis
The closing of the Al Jazeera Media Network was one of the terms of diplomatic reestablishment put forward by Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt during the 2017 Qatar diplomatic crisis.
On 23 June 2017, the countries that cut ties to Qatar issued a list of demands to end the major crisis, insisting that Qatar shut down the Al Jazeera network, close a Turkish military base and scale down ties with Iran. The call, included in a list of 13 points, read: "Shut down Al Jazeera and its affiliate stations".
Agencies, media outlets, journalists and media rights organizations have decried the demands to close Al Jazeera as attempts to curb press freedom, including Reporters Without Borders; CPJ; IFEX; The Guardian and the New York Times.
Earlier, Saudi and the UAE blocked Al Jazeera websites; Saudi Arabia closed Al Jazeera's bureau in Riyadh and halted its operating license, accusing the network of promoting "terrorist groups" in the region; and Jordan also revoked the license for Al Jazeera.
Saudi Arabia also banned hotels from airing Al Jazeera, threatening fines of up to $26,000 for "violators". On 6 June, just days after the Saudi-led group had cut ties with Qatar, Al Jazeera was a victim of a cyber attack on all of its platforms.
Qatari Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani, has said Doha will not discuss the status of Al Jazeera in any negotiations. "Doha rejects discussing any matter related to Al Jazeera channel as it considers it an internal affair," Qatar News Agency quoted the foreign minister as saying. "Decisions concerning the Qatari internal affairs are Qatari sovereignty - and no one has to interfere with them."
In June 2017, UAE ambassador to US Yousef Al Otaiba hacked emails were reported as "embarrassing" by Al Jazeera because they showed links between the UAE and the US-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies. According to observers, the extensive media coverage of the alleged email hack was seen as a provocation and the hacking as a move orchestrated by Qatar.
On 24 November 2017 Dubai Police deputy chief Lieutenant General Dhahi Khalfan Tamim accused Al Jazeera for provoking the 2017 Sinai attack and called for bombing of Al Jazeera by the Saudi-led coalition, tweeting in Arabic "The alliance must bomb the machine of terrorism ... the channel of ISIL, al-Qaeda and the al-Nusra Front, Al Jazeera the terrorists".
In 2018, Al Jazeera reported apparent new details regarding a 1996 Qatari coup d'état attempt accusing the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Egypt, of plotting to overthrow Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani. According to Al Jazeera, a former French army commander Paul Barril was contracted and supplied with weapons by the UAE to carry out the coup operation in Qatar. UAE minister of foreign affairs Anwar Gargash responded to the documentary and stated that Paul Barril was, in fact, a security agent of the Qatari Sheikh Khalifa bin Hamad Al Thani who visited Abu Dhabi and had no relationship with the UAE and the documentary was a falsification attempt through a pay-rolled speaker to inculpate the UAE in the coup.