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Al Jazeera

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Background Information

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Al Jazeera
Type Satellite television network
Country Qatar
Availability Worldwide
Owner Sheikh Hamad bin Thamer al-Thani
Key people Sheikh Hamad bin Thamer al-Thani, Chairman
Wadah Khanfar, Director-General
Ahmed Sheikh, Editor-in-chief
Launch date 1996
Official website (Arabic) (English)

Al Jazeera (Arabic: الجزيرة‎, al-ğazīrä, [al.dʒaˈziː.ra], meaning "The Island", referring to the Arabian Peninsula) is a television network headquartered in Doha, Qatar. Initially launched as an Arabic news and current affairs satellite TV channel with the same name, Al Jazeera has since expanded into a network with several outlets, including the Internet and specialty TV channels in multiple languages, and in several regions of the world.

The original Al Jazeera channel's willingness to broadcast dissenting views, including on call-in shows, created controversies in Persian Gulf States. The station gained worldwide attention following the September 11, 2001 attacks, when it broadcast video statements by Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders (see Videos of Osama bin Laden).


Al Jazeera operates a number of specialty channels besides its original flagship news channel. As of early 2007, the Al Jazeera network's TV channels include:

  • Al Jazeera
the original international Arabic-language 24h news channel launched in 1996 

  • Al Jazeera Sports
a popular Arabic-language sports channel launched in 2003 
  • Al Jazeera Sports +1
launched in 2004  
  • Al Jazeera Sports +2

  • Al Jazeera Mobasher (aka Al Jazeera Live)
a live politics and public interest channel (similar to C-SPAN or BBC Parliament), which broadcasts conferences in real time without editing or commentary launched in 2005  

  • Al Jazeera Children's Channel (aka JCC)
a children's interest channel launched in 2005 

  • Al Jazeera English
a global English-language 24h news channel launched in 2006 

  • Al Jazeera Documentary Channel
an Arabic language documentary channel launched in 2007 

Future plans

Future announced products include Al Jazeera in a number of other languages - these would include Al Jazeera Urdu, an Urdu language channel to cater mainly to Pakistanis and other Urdu-speaking populations.

Al Jazeera has also been reported to be planning to launch an international newspaper.


The original Al Jazeera channel was started in 1996 with a US$150 million grant from the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa.

In April 1996, the BBC World Service's Saudi-co-owned Arabic language TV station, faced with censorship demands by the Saudi Arabian government, shut down after two years of operation. Many former BBC World Service staff members joined Al Jazeera, which at the time was not yet on air. The channel began broadcasting in late 1996.

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-censored 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 Persian Gulf states, 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, on 27 January 1999, Al Jazeera had critics of the Algerian government on during their live program El-Itidjah el-Mouakass (="The Opposite Direction"). The Algerian government cut the electricity supply to at least large parts of the capital Algiers (and allegedly to large parts of the country), to prevent the program from getting seen. At that time, Al Jazeera was not yet generally known in the Western world, but where it was known, the opinion about it was often favourable and Al Jazeera claimed to be the only politically independent television station in the Middle East. Al Jazeera's well presented coverage of the Lebanese Civil War in 2000-2001 gave its viewer ratings a boost throughout the region. However, it wasn't until late 2001 that Al Jazeera achieved worldwide recognition, when it broadcast video statements by al-Qaeda leaders.


Further to the initial US$ 150 million grant from the Emir of Qatar, Al Jazeera had aimed to become self-sufficient through advertising by 2001, but when this failed to occur, the Emir agreed to continue subsidizing it on a year-by-year basis (US$30 million in 2004, according to Arnaud de Borchgrave). Other major sources of income include advertising, cable subscription fees, broadcasting deals with other companies, and sale of footage. In 2000, advertising accounted for 40% of the station's revenue.

Outside the Middle East

In 2003, Al Jazeera hired its first English-language journalist, Afshin Rattansi, from the BBC's Today Programme (which had been at the heart of UK events when it came to Tony Blair's decision to back the U.S. invasion of Iraq).

In March 2003, it launched an English-language website (see below).

On July 4, 2005 Al Jazeera officially announced plans to launch a new English-language satellite service to be called Al Jazeera International. The new channel started at 12h GMT on November 15 2006 under the name Al Jazeera English and has broadcast centers in Doha (next to the original Al Jazeera headquarters and broadcast centre), London, Kuala Lumpur and Washington D.C.. The channel is a 24-hour, 7-day-a-week news channel, with 12 hours broadcast from Doha, and four hours each from London, Kuala Lumpur, and Washington D.C.

With Al Jazeera's growing global outreach and influence, some scholars including Adel Iskandar have described the station as a transformation of the very definition of " alternative media."


It is widely believed internationally that inhabitants of the Arab world are given limited information by their governments and media, and that what is conveyed is biased towards the governments' views. Many people see Al Jazeera as a more trustworthy source of information than government and foreign channels. 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. As a result, it is probably the most watched news channel in the Middle East. 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 is now considered by some to be a fairly mainstream media network, though more controversial than most. In the United States as of 2006, video footage from the network carried by other stations was largely limited to video segments of hostages.

As of 2007, the Arabic Al Jazeera channel rivals the BBC in worldwide audiences with an estimated 40 to 50 million viewers. Al Jazeera English has an estimated reach of around 100 million households.


The original Al Jazeera channel is available worldwide through various satellite and cable systems. In the U.S., it is available through subscription satellite and Free to Air DVB-S on the Galaxy-25 satellite. Al Jazeera can also be freely viewed with a DVB-S receiver in Europe, Northern Africa, and the Middle East as it is broadcast on the Astra and Hot Bird satellites. In the UK, it is available on Sky platform.

For availability info of the Al Jazeera network's other TV channels, see their respective articles. Segments of Al Jazeera English are uploaded to YouTube.

It is also possible to watch Al Jazeera English over the internet from their official website. The low-resolution version is available free of charge , high-resolution available under subscription fees through partner sites.


The Chairman of Al Jazeera is Sheikh Hamad bin Thamer al-Thani, a distant cousin of Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani.

Al Jazeera recently restructured its operations and have formed a Network that contains all their different channels. Wadah Khanfar, the managing director of the Arabic Channel was appointed as the Director General of the Al Jazeera Network. He also acts as the Managing Director of the Arabic channel. He is supported by Ahmed Sheikh, Editor-in-Chief, and Amen Jaballah.

The Editor-in-Chief of the Arabic website is Ahmed Sheikh, and the editorial head is Mohammad Dawood. It has more than one hundred editorial staff.

The Editor-in-Chief of the English-language site is Russell Merryman, who took over in August 2005. He replaced Omar Bec who was caretaking the site after the departure of Managing Editor Alison Balharry. Previous incumbents include Joanne Tucker and Ahmed Sheikh.

Prominent on-air personalities include Faisal al-Qassem, host of the talk show The Opposite Direction.

The chief investigative reporter is Yosri Fouda. He is currently in charge of Jazeera's London bureau.

Criticism and controversy

While Al Jazeera has a large audience in the Middle East and worldwide, the organisation and the original Arabic channel in particular have been involved in numerous controversies, and especially in some parts of the western world, many people have an unfavourable view of Al Jazeera.

A widely reported criticism is the allegation that Al Jazeera had shown videos of masked terrorists beheading western hostages in Iraq. When this is reported in reputable media, Al Jazeera presses for retractions to be made. This allegation was again repeated on Fox News in the USA on the launch day of Al Jazeera's English service, 15 November 2006.

Later The Guardian apologized for incorrect information that Al Jazeera 'had shown videos of masked terrorists beheading western hostages'.

Al Jazeera has been entangled in controversies involving the following countries:


As mentioned above, on 27 January 1999, several Algerian cities lost power simultaneously, reportedly to keep residents from watching a program in which Algerian dissidents implicated the Algerian military in a series of massacres.

On July 4, 2004, the Algerian government froze the activities of Al Jazeera's Algerian correspondent. The official reason given was that a reorganization of the work of foreign correspondents was in progress. The international pressure group Reporters Without Borders says, however, that the measure was really taken in reprisal for a broadcast the previous week of another El-Itidjah el-Mouakass debate on the political situation in Algeria.


The Bahraini Information Minister, Nabeel Yacoob Al Hamer, banned Al Jazeera correspondents from reporting from inside the country on 10 May, 2002, saying that the station was biased towards Israel and against Bahrain. After improvements in relations between Bahrain and Qatar in 2004, Al Jazeera correspondents returned to Bahrain.


During the Iraq war, Al Jazeera faced the same reporting and movement restrictions as other news-gathering organizations. In addition, one of its reporters, Tayseer Allouni, was expelled from the country, while another one, Diyar Al-Omari, was stripped of his journalistic permits by the Iraqi Information Ministry. Reacting to this, Al Jazeera announced on April 2, 2003, that it would "temporarily freeze all coverage" of Iraq in protest of what Al Jazeera described as unreasonable interference from Iraqi officials. All of these decisions were later reverted.

In May 2003, the CIA, through the Iraqi National Congress, released documents purportedly showing that Al Jazeera had been infiltrated by Iraqi spies, and was regarded by Iraqi officials as part of their propaganda effort. As reported by the Sunday Times, the alleged spies were described by an Al Jazeera executive as having minor roles with no input on editorial decisions.

On 23 September 2003, Iraq suspended Al Jazeera (and Al-Arabiya) from reporting on official government activities for two weeks for what the Council stated as supporting recent attacks on council members and Coalition occupational forces. The move came after allegations by Iraqis who stated that the channel had incited anti-occupation violence (by airing statements from Iraqi insurgency leaders), increasing ethnic and sectarian tensions, and being supportive of the insurgency.

During 2004, Al Jazeera broadcast several video tapes of various victims of kidnappings in Iraq, which had been sent to the network. The videos had been filmed by the kidnappers holding the hostages. The hostages were shown, often blindfolded, pleading for their release. They often appeared to be forced to read out prepared statements of their kidnappers. Al Jazeera has assisted authorities from the home countries of the victims in an attempt to secure the release of kidnapping victims. This included broadcasting pleas from family members and government officials. Contrary to some allegations, including the oft-reported comments of Donald Rumsfeld on June 4, 2005, Al Jazeera has never shown beheadings. (Beheadings have appeared on numerous non-Al Jazeera Internet websites and have sometimes been misattributed to Al Jazeera.)

On August 7 2004, the Iraqi Allawi government shut down the Iraq office of Al Jazeera, claiming that it was responsible for presenting a negative image of Iraq, and charging the network with fueling anti-Coalition hostilities. Al Jazeera spokesman Jihad Ballout said: "It's regrettable and we believe it's not justifiable. This latest decision runs contrary to all the promises made by Iraqi authorities concerning freedom of expression and freedom of the press." and Al Jazeera vowed to continue its reporting from inside Iraq. News photographs showed United States and Iraqi military personnel working together to close the office. Initially closed by a one-month ban, the shutdown was extended indefinitely in September 2004, and the offices were sealed, drawing condemnation from international journalists.


Al Jazeera has been criticized for failing to report on many hard hitting news stories that originate from Qatar, where Al Jazeera is based. The two most frequently cited stories were the revoking of citizenship from the Al Ghafran clan of the Al Murrah tribe in response to a failed coup that members of the Al Ghafran clan were implicated in, and Qatar's growing relations with and diplomatic visits to Israel.

Saudi Arabia

While the New York Times reported that Al Jazeera was notable in its on-air silence regarding the Qatif girl rape case, the station did publish at least five articles on the topic on its website. The motivation cited behind the decision to suppress criticism was the desire by the Qatari leadership to bolster relations with the Saudis.


Reporter Tayseer Allouni was arrested in Spain on 5 September, 2003, on a charge of having provided support for members of al-Qaeda. Judge Baltasar Garzón, who had issued the arrest warrant, ordered Allouni held without bail. Al Jazeera wrote to then Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar and protested: "On several occasions Western journalists met secretly with secret organizations and they were not subjected to any legal action because they were doing their job, so why is Alouni being excluded?" Allouni was released on bail several weeks later over health concerns, but prohibited from leaving the country.

On 19 September, a Spanish court issued an arrest warrant for Allouni, before the expected verdict. Allouni had asked the court for permission to visit his family in Syria to attend the funeral of his mother, but authorities denied his request and instead ordered him back to jail.

Although he pleaded not guilty of all the charges against him, Allouni was sentenced on 26 September 2005 to seven years in prison for being a financial courier for al-Qaeda. Allouni insisted he merely interviewed bin Laden after the September 11 attack on the United States. Al Jazeera has continuously supported Allouni and protested his innocence.

Many international and private organizations condemned the arrest and called on the Spanish court to free Taysir Allouni. Websites such as Alony Solidarity were created to support Allouni.

United Kingdom

UK officials, like their US counterparts, strongly protested Al Jazeera's coverage of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Al Jazeera stated that the coalition leaders were taking exception because its reporting made it more difficult for both countries to manage the way the war was being reported.

United States

While prior to September 11, 2001, the United States government had lauded Al Jazeera for its role as an independent media outlet in the Middle East, US officials have since claimed an anti-American bias to Al Jazeera's news coverage.

The station first gained widespread attention in the West following the September 11, 2001 attacks, when it broadcast videos in which Osama bin Laden and Sulaiman Abu Ghaith defended and justified the attacks. This led to significant controversy and accusations by the United States government that Al Jazeera was engaging in propaganda on behalf of terrorists. Al Jazeera countered that it was merely making information available without comment, and indeed several western television channels later followed suit in broadcasting portions of the tapes.

On November 13, during the US invasion of Afghanistan, 2001 a U.S. missile strike destroyed Al Jazeera's office in Kabul. There were no casualties.

Detention of Sami Al Hajj

Al Jazeera cameraman Sami Al Hajj, a Sudanese national, was detained while in transit to Afghanistan in December 2001, and as of 2007 continues to be held without charge, as an " enemy combatant" in Camp Delta at Guantánamo Bay. The reasons for his detention remain unknown, although the US' official statement on all detainees is that they are security threats. Reporters Without Borders have repeatedly expressed concern over Al Hajj's detention, mentioned Al Hajj in their Annual Worldwide Press Freedom Index, and launched a petition for his release. On 23 November 2005, Sami Al Hajj's lawyer Clive Stafford-Smith reported that, during (125 of 130) interviews, U.S. officials had questioned Sami as to whether Al Jazeera was a front for al-Qaeda.

In the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the U.S. Pentagon hired the Rendon Group to target and possibly punish Al Jazeera reporters who did not stay on message.

When Al Jazeera went on to do reporting featuring very graphic footage from inside Iraq, US officials decried Al Jazeera as anti-American and as inciting violence. This sentiment was widely echoed throughout the US media and population.

On Monday, 24 March 2003, shortly after the start of the invasion, two Al Jazeera reporters covering the New York Stock Exchange had their credentials revoked. The New York Stock Exchange banned Al Jazeera (as well as several other news organizations whose identities were not revealed) from its trading floor indefinitely. NYSE spokesman Ray Pellechia claimed "security reasons" and that the exchange had decided to give access only to networks that focus "on responsible business coverage". He denied the revocation has anything to do with the network's Iraq war coverage. The move was quickly mirrored by Nasdaq stock market officials.

Killing of Tareq Ayyoub

On April 8, 2003 Al Jazeera's office in Baghdad was hit by a U.S. missile, killing reporter Tareq Ayyoub and wounding another. Al Jazeera, in order to avoid coming under US fire, had informed the U.S. of the office's precise coordinates prior to the incident. Dima Tareq Tahboub, the widow of Tareq Ayyoub, continues to seek justice for her husband's death and has among other things written for the Guardian and participated in a documentary broadcast on Al Jazeera English.

On January 30, 2005 the New York Times reported that the Qatari government, under pressure from the Bush administration, was speeding up plans to sell the station. However, as of 2007, the station/network has not been sold and it is unclear whether there are still any plans to do so.

Al Jazeera bombing memo

On November 22, 2005, the UK tabloid The Daily Mirror published a story claiming that it had obtained a leaked memo from 10 Downing Street saying that U.S. President George W. Bush had considered bombing Al Jazeera's Doha headquarters in April 2004, when U.S. Marines were conducting a contentious assault on Fallujah.

In light of this allegation, Al Jazeera has questioned whether it has been targeted deliberately in the past – Al Jazeera's Kabul office was bombed in 2001 and another missile hit its office in Baghdad during the invasion of Iraq, killing correspondent Tareq Ayyoub. Both of these attacks occurred subsequent to Al Jazeera's disclosure of the locations of their offices to the United States.

On the Web

Al Jazeera's web-based service is accessible subscription-free throughout the world. The English and Arabic sections are editorially distinct, with their own selection of news and comment.

High quality video broadcast of Al Jazeera are available in English as a subscription service.

Arabic language

The Arabic version of the site was brought offline for about 10 hours by an FBI raid on its ISP, InfoCom Corporation, on September 5, 2001. InfoCom was later convicted of exporting to Libya and Syria, of knowingly being invested in by a Hamas member (both of which are illegal in the United States), and of underpaying customs duties.

English language

The station launched an English-language edition of its online content in March 2003. This English language website was relaunched on November 15, 2006, along with the launch of Al Jazeera English.

Web site attacked

Immediately after its launch, the English site was attacked by one or several hackers, who launched denial-of-service attacks, and by a social engineer, who redirected visitors to a site featuring an American flag. Both events were widely reported as Al Jazeera's website having been attacked by " hackers". In November 2003, John William Racine II, also known as 'John Buffo', was sentenced to 1000 hours of community service and a $1,500 U.S. fine for the online disruption. Racine posed as an Al Jazeera employee to get a password to the network's site, then redirected visitors to a page he created that showed an American flag shaped like a U.S. map and a patriotic motto, court documents said. In June 2003, Racine pleaded guilty to wire fraud and unlawful interception of an electronic communication. As of 2007, the perpetrators of the denial-of-service attacks remain unknown.

Web host changes

The English-language site was forced to change internet hosting providers several times, due, in Al Jazeera's opinion, to political pressure. Initially, hosting for the English-language site was provided by the U.S.-based company DataPipe, which gave Al Jazeera notice, soon followed by Akamai Technologies. Al Jazeera later shifted to the French branch of NavLink, and then to (the as of 2007 current host) AT&T WorldNet Services.


  • Al Jazeera's coverage of the invasion of Iraq was the focus of an award-winning 2004 documentary film, Control Room by Egyptian-American director Jehane Noujaim.
  • In July 2003, PBS broadcast a documentary, called Exclusive to al-Jazeera on its program " Wide Angle."
  • Another documentary, Al-Jazeera, An Arab Voice for Freedom or Demagoguery? The UNC Tour was filmed two months after the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attack.


  • In December 1999, Ibn Rushd (Averoes) Fund for Freedom of Thought in Berlin awarded the "Ibn Rushd Award" for media and journalism for the year to Al Jazeera.
  • In March 2003, Al Jazeera was awarded by Index on Censorship for its "courage in circumventing censorship and contributing to the free exchange of information in the Arab world."
  • In April 2004, Webby Awards nominated Al Jazeera as one of the five best news Web sites, along with BBC News, National Geographic, RocketNews and The Smoking Gun. According to Tifanny Schlain, the founder of the Webby Awards, this caused a controversy as [other media organisations] "felt it was a risk-taking site".
  • In 2004, Al Jazeera was voted by readers as the fifth most influential global brand behind Apple Computer, Google, Ikea and Starbucks.


  • In response to Al Jazeera, a group of Saudi investors created Al Arabiya in the first quarter of 2003. Despite (especially initial) scepticism over the station's Saudi funding (cf. History) and a perception of censorship of anti-Saudi content, Al Arabiya has successfully emulated Al Jazeera, garnered a significant audience share, and has also gotten similarly involved in controversy – Al Arabiya has been severely criticised by the Iraqi and US authorities and has also had journalists killed on the job.
  • In order to counter a perceived bias of Al Jazeera, the U.S. government in 2004 founded Al Hurra (="the free one"), a competing Arabic-language satellite TV station variably seen as a public diplomacy tool or a propaganda outlet. Al Hurra is forbidden to broadcast to the US under the provisions of the Smith-Mundt Act. A Zogby poll found that 1% of Arab viewers watch Al Hurra as their first choice.
  • Since the launch of Al Jazeera English, Al Jazeera directly competes with BBC World and CNN International, as do a growing number of other international broadcasters such as France 24 , Russia Today and Press TV.
  • Another competitor is Al-Alam, Established in 2003 by Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, it broadcasts continuously. It seeks to address the most challenging issues of the Muslim and Arab world and the Middle East.
  • A further competitor is the Rusiya Al-Yaum channel - the first Russian TV news channel broadcasting in Arabic and headquartered in Moscow, Russia. Rusiya Al-Yaum started broadcasting on May 4, 2007 at 7:00 ( Moscow time). The Channel is established and operated by RIA Novosti, the same news agency that launched Russia Today TV in December 2005 to deliver a Russian perspective on news to English-speaking audiences, and "Rusiya Al-Yaum" is indeed a translation of "Russia Today" into Arabic.
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