Al Jazeera

First channel of continuous information in the Arab world, Al-Jazira -« Peninsula, island » in Arabic- aired its first broadcast in November 1996, from the Emirate of Qatar.

The origins of the satellite channel lie in the middle 1990s when the BBC set up an Arabic language TV channel and contracted with the Saudi satellite company Orbit to transmit its programmes to the Middle East. This cooperation was due to stop in 1996 because of some criticism of the Saudi regime. The Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad Ibn Khalifa Al Thani, offered $150M -spread over five years- to fund a new TV station, aimed to be free and independent. The new station attracted some of the former BBC staff. Though with public financing, the satellite channel is a private company.

The staff of the station, -50 journalists and 350 people in total-, is formed by natives of nearly all Arab countries. The channel has 35 bureaus around the world. The station has addressed, since 1996, various themes considered taboo in the Arab world such as the absence of democratic institutions or the persecution of political dissidents. A platform for political dissidents is also provided in the weekly programme « Opposite direction ». Qatar has received official complaints from almost all Arab states since the beginning of its broadcastings.

Though recently discovered by the West, Al-Jazira had made its breakthrough in the Arab world with its coverage from Iraq, of the US military Operation « Desert Fox » in December 1998. And the popularity of the channel increased thanks to the extensive coverage of the second Intifada, including interviews of Lebanese Hizbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah and the then Israeli Prime Minister Ehoud Barak (due to pressure from the Arab street, the channel stopped showing interviews of Israeli officials but continues to interview various Israeli analysts and experts). For many Arabs, Al-Jazira is to the Intifada what CNN had been for the Gulf War.

Before the bombardments in October 2001, Al-Jazira had broadcast, in the month of January 2001, an exclusive footage of Bin Laden at his son’s wedding. It had also transmitted pictures of Taliban fighters dynamiting the Bamiyan Buddhas. It is the only channel present in Afghanistan since the USA attacks, having one correspondent in Kabul and a special envoy in Qandahar. By offering the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden a platform, Al-Jazira has provoked the wrath of the US authorities which, fearing that the Qatari channel contributes to radicalising Arab public opinion, has asked the Qatari authorities to put pressure on Al-Jazira to tone down its coverage on Afghanistan, and has even appealed to the US stations to limit use of videotapes issued by Osama Ben Laden and his aides, which have been widely broadcast by the Qatari channel.