Al-Jazeera also abbreviated JSC (Jazeera Satellite Channel) is an autonomous broadcaster belonging to the state of Qatar, through Qatar Media Corporation, founded by Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa, in 1996. The independence of the channel’s editorial policy originates from the fact that the channel generates its funding from loans and grants rather than depending on direct government funding (Seib 47; Al-Hail 50). Initially, during the launch of the Al-Jazeera, the television channel was purely on Arabic news and current affairs, but currently it has expanded its operations including new outlets and networks broadcasting in multiple languages accessible in many parts of the world. The closure of the BBC Arabic language channel triggered the formation and establishment the Al-Jazeera Arabic satellite channel.
History and back ground of Al-Jazeera
Al-Jazeera started its operations in 1996, and sourced its personnel from BBC, which had experience in Arabic broadcasting, because BBC had earlier launched an Arabic channel, but closed due to Arabic censorship. Good professionalism in news coverage and discussions, in the studio, led to high audience attraction to the channel.
Lately, several organizations, including brandchannel.com and salon.com, have voted Al-Jazeera as among the five best global influential channels. Al-Hail notes, “prominent personalities such as the US secretary of state recognized that the Al-Jazeera network’s news were more informative and less opinion-driven than American journalism” (49). Although Al-Jazeera satellite channel attracts many audiences across many nations of the word, it faces many challenges and problems both financial and political. Many hoped that the channel would collapse five years after its launch simply because it faced numerous financial difficulties leading to equipment rental.
Popularity of Al-Jazeera increased markedly in Arabian countries because the Qatar government barred other private individuals and media organization from having private satellite dishes. El-Nawawy and Iskandar urge, “…the channel’s tremendous popularity has also, for better or worse, made it a shaper of public opinion” (111). The news footage, coverage, and highlights usually influence the course of events in Arabian countries, Syria and Egypt. The station’s influence is stronger in Palestine serving as the primary source of news for 53.4% of Palestinians. Due to Al-Jazeera’s popularity in Palestine, “it has become a mover and shaker, in the Palestinian politics, by influencing the public perception and political debates across the nation” (El-Nawawy and Iskandar 111). Professional presentation of peace negotiations between Palestine and Israel helps to promote peace and calmness among the citizens of these two nations.
Today Al-Jazeera has expanded beyond Middle East. Establishment of other language stations including English language satellites in March 2000 has helped in penetration of the Al-Jazeera to the English speaking nations. The recent launch of Al-Jazeera English international, operating 24-hours in seven days a week increased the popularity of the station widely beating its closest rival in broadcasting, BBC.
The plans and projects of expansion, by Al-Jazeera, include the establishment of Al-Jazeera Kiswahili based in Nairobi Kenya to broadcast in Swahili to Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, and Rwanda.
Political problems of Al-Jazeera
The perception of America’s media organizations, towards Al-Jazeera, depicts a tendency to demonize the station, simply because Al-Jazeera aired and reported graphic footage from Iraq, a move seen as inciting violence, as the coverage involved matters and issues toughing on national security.
The subsequence impact of the Iraq coverage on the media organization included the revocation of Al-Jazeera reporter’s credentials in New York stock exchange. Lynch observes that, the vice president for communication in the stock exchange indicated that the graphic footage by Al-Jazeera on March 2003 led to the drumming out of the stock exchange (34). Political influence led to the throwing out of the media station from reporting business matters of the stock exchange claiming the expelling was due to security reasons.
The emergence of a 24-hour broadcasting station brought in a further challenge of higher levels of scrutiny than was the case with the Arabic broadcast programs. The intensive scrutiny of the Al-Jazeera operations evaluated the station’s international broadcasting for reasons of biasness and balance (Alterman 59; Zayani 89). The major reason of carrying out the scrutiny ensures fairness in coverage of the information and events internationally. This scrutiny affects the independence editorial policy of the organization. On the other hand, global governments and journalist organizations may shift blames to Al-Jazeera international if they notice Al-Jazeera programming fails to comply with established journalistic standards.
In Palestine, although the station reported a high level of popularity it faces problems of closure. In 2009, the Palestinian national authority ordered the immediate closure of the Al-Jazeera offices due to footage showing the involvement of president Mohmoud Abbas to the death of President Yasser Arafat. The prime minister explained that the move to close the station was based on the fact that, the information aired had no truth and was unbalanced thus causing incitement (Miles 668). The frequent closure of the station affects the financial base of the station hence its performance simply because the operations of the stations depends on the placement of different advertisements by companies.
In 2005, there was an “increasing pressure from U.S. administration to the Qatar government to speed up procedures to sell the station” (Alterman 98). The station endured the pressure, and it remains unsold even today. This was a political plan to get rid of the station.
Issues of insecurity have contributed significantly in the attempt to clear Al-Jazeera stations. In Kabul and Baghdad, bombing of the Al-Jazeera offices occurred a few days after the disclosure of the office allocation to the U.S.A government leaving suspicion that the attacks political. Else were in Egypt in 2011, the Egyptian government authorized the closure and arrest of Al-Jazeera reporters (Schleifer 112). Egyptians criticize Al-Jazeera alleging that, its reporting is biased with regard to the Egypt government, and thus spoils the true image of the government.
During the Iraq war, Al-Jazeera encountered stringent restriction in reporting and news footage by the U.S government. Reporters who did not concede to the government restriction risked expulsion from the nation or stripping of the journalistic permit (Sakr 78). Moreover, the U.S government rejected the inclusion of Al-Jazeera footages and coverage by all cable TV companies in their TV programs. This was a serious setback to the station, which had attracted the attention of a large population. Although this was political game, the Al-Jazeera suspended all Iraq coverage and alleged that this was unreasonable interference of the freedom of media organizations.
Al-Jazeera also suffers a problem of satellite disruption especially on sports transmission in which the transmission goes down without explanation or prior alerts. For instance, as Tatham observes, “During the 2010 FIFA World cup opening game, Al-Jazeera Sports transmission in the Arab world went down without explanation in the first half, while the second half transmission was patchy” (43). This interference destroys the image and presentation of the media group, which eventually affects it popularity among a large population.
Financial problem of Al-Jazeera
Since its establishment, Al-Jazeera depends solely on loans and grants to run its operations, rather than direct government funding. Tatham urges that, “following the initial grant from the Emir of Qatar, Al-Jazeera had aimed at becoming self-sufficient through advertising by 2001, but when this failed to occur, the Emir agreed to give several consecutive loans on a year-by-year basis” (46). It was up to 2011 that revenue from advertisements was sufficient to support operations of the station.
Other than loans and grants cable subscription, advertising fees, sale of footage and broadcasting deals with other leading companies help to supplement the funding of the station. Advertising only provides the greatest share of financing and annual revenue amounting to 40% of the total revenue annually.
Sharing of news feed with other networks also resulted to collection of fees, especially during the Afghanistan war, simply because other nations could not reach the battle zone. The fees collected from the sharing of the news by Al-Jazeera helped to increase the revenue of the organization. The low financial support and lack of a strong financial base led to the slowing implementation of projects of Al-Jazeera. The frequent governmental attacks to the station partly relates to their financial independence in which there is no direct funding from the government. The independent editorial policy of the station allows the footage of information and news, without governmental censorship, and thus many governments oppose the coverage, by Al-Jazeera, dismissing them as unbalanced and quoting sensitive security issues and incitements.
Controversies and censorship
Although Al-Jazeera commands a large audience in the Middle East, the organization encounters increasingly high levels of criticisms, controversies, and censorship. A complicated “controversy and criticism was the allegation of showing videos of Western hostages beheaded by masked terrorist in Iraq” (Alterman 56). These allegations were untrue for Al-Jazeera never aired the footage but was showing in other networks. Recently in 2008, the U.S government criticized Al-Jazeera as having “anti-American sentiments overseas”. The allegations involved the station engaging interviewees who made commends that President Obama regards the whites as trash and were afraid whether he wins (Miles 96). Al-Jazeera dismissed these allegations gratuitous, and confirmed that the station’s motive to have hours of diverse coverage.
The station escapes governmental censorship on its footage and coverage due to the independence editorial policy bestowed to it, by the fact that its funding sources are not from the government.
Al-Jazeera as a media station continues to encounter challenges both politically and financially triggered, but it continues to stand the taste of time. Despite pressure from the U.S government to close down the station, Al-Jazeera continues to operate amidst the formidable opposition and attracts the attention of many people, from both the Arab countries and English speaking countries. Popularity and professional presentation of the station in multiple languages promotes its image leading to attraction of advertisements from leading companies, which in turn increases the stations financial base enabling quick expansion. The controversies surrounding the station remain to be empty allegations, which are baseless; therefore, the station escapes dissolution as its motive remains as having hours of diverse coverage. Lack of direct governmental funding enables the station to enjoy independence editorial policy in which the government cannot censor the station’s footage. In this case, the media freedom and rights of expression are not at risk as compared to other media networks, which are prone to government censorship before airing the footages.
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Alterman, Jon. The Challenge for Al-Jazeera International. Washington, DC. Press, 2009. Print.
El-Nawawy, Mohammed, and Adel Iskandar. Al-Jazeera: How the Free Arab News Network Scooped The World And Changed The Middle East. U.S.A: Westview Press, 2002. Print.
Lynch, Marc. Voices of the New Arab Public: Iraq, Al-Jazeera, and Middle East Politics Today. Columbia: Columbia University Press, 2005. Print.
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Sakr, Naomi. Satellite Realms: Transnational Television, Globalization, and the Middle East. New York: Free Press, 2002. Print.
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Seib, Philip. Theal-Jazeera Effects: How the New Global Media are Reshaping World Politics. USA: Grove Press, 2009. Print.
Tatham, Steve. Losing Arab Hearts and Minds: The Coalition, Al-Jazeera & Muslim Public Opinion. London: Hurst & Co., 2006. Print.
Zayani Mohamed. The Al Jazeera Phenomenon: Critical Perspectives on New Arab Media. India: Paradigm Publishers, 2005. Print.