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Jazeera, al-

By:
Joseph A. Kéchichian
Source:
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World What is This? Provides comprehensive scholarly coverage of the full geographical and historical extent of Islam

Jazeera, al-

In 2004, www.brandchannel.com readers voted al-Jazeera as the fifth most influential global brand behind Apple Computer, Google, Ikea, and Starbucks. For an Arab company that first broadcast in 1996, the accolade revealed unparalleled strength and, with a substantial audience size, undeniable impact.

 When the two-year-old BBC World Service Arabic station folded in April 1996, the emir of Qatar, Shaykh Ḥamad bin Khalīfah Āl Thāni, purchased its assets for around $150 million and invited seasoned reporters to Doha to create al-Jazeera (“the island” in Arabic). Although Qatar continued to subsidize it for $30 million per year, advertising income, subscription fees, broadcasting agreements, and, after 2005, the addition of several new channels enhanced revenues. The lone Arabic-language station evolved into a multi-pronged network with al-Jazeera Sports-1 and -2 (created in 2003 and 2004); al-Jazeera Mubashar (similar to C-Span in the United States); al-Jazeera Children 's Channel (2005); al-Jazeera English (2006); and al-Jazeera Documentary Channel (2007). Whether motivated by a desire to air dissenting views, including several controversial programs like “al-Ittijāh al-Muʿakis” (“The Opposing Direction,” moderated by the popular Fayṣal al-Qāsim), or by his interest in fostering a favorable self-image, the Qatari ruler 's decision placed the small shaykhdom on the world map.

 Middle Eastern viewers flocked to the station in droves (an estimated 45 million) because of its relative freedoms, which encouraged healthy debates on critical issues facing Arab societies. Despite criticisms, al-Jazeera changed the way audiences watched and heard the news in a part of the world not particularly known for its political liberties. In 1996, al-Jazeera was the only independent television station in the entire Middle East; its subsequent competitors included the popular al-ʿArabīyah (established by a group of Saudi investors in 2003), al-Ḥurrah (funded by the U.S. government and begun in 2004), and al-ʿAlām (the Iranian Arabic-language satellite television launched in 2003). This competition notwithstanding, Middle Eastern viewers trusted al-Jazeera. Ironically, the network became indispensable to Western outlets, which rebroadcast many of its exclusive interviews. The al-Jazeera English boasted an estimated reach of 80 million households in early 2007, rivaling the world 's most successful channel, the BBC, whose audiences hovered around 50 million.

The station 's real influence was only felt after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. Although Washington had earlier lauded al-Jazeera 's role as an independent media outlet in the Arab world, its broadcasts of video statements by leading al-Qaʿida leaders, including Osama bin Laden and Āyman al-Ẓawahīrī, earned it the wrath of Western governments. The situation went from bad to worse after the October 7, 2001 American invasion of Afghanistan, when a U.S. missile strike may have deliberately destroyed al-Jazeera 's Kabul office. An al-Jazeera cameraman, Samī al-Ḥajj, was arrested in December 2001 on the Afghan-Pakistani border and later transferred to the American detention camp at Guantanamo Bay as an enemy combatant. A far graver situation evolved in Iraq, where one veteran reporter was expelled and another killed, allegedly by coalition forces. The network was targeted in Iraq by both coalition forces and successive Iraqi regimes on the grounds that it aired opposition propaganda that incited anti-occupation violence. In 2003, the New York Stock Exchange stripped al-Jazeera of its credentials, and British sources revealed in 2005 that Washington considered bombing al-Jazeera 's Doha headquarters in April 2004, when U.S. Marines were fighting a particularly vicious battle in Fallūjah. Denials aside, few expressed concern about such allegations.

See also COMMUNICATIONS MEDIA and GULF STATES.

Bibliography

  • Miles, Hugh. Al-Jazeera: The Inside Story of the Arab News Channel That is Challenging the West. New York: Grove Press, 2005.
  • Nawawy, Mohammed el-, and Adel Iskandar. Al-Jazeera: How the Free Arab News Network Scooped the World and Changed the Middle East. Cambridge, Mass.: Westview Press, 2002.
  • Zayani, Mohammed, ed.The Al-Jazeera Phenomenon: Critical Perspectives on New Arab Media. London: Pluto Press; Boulder, Colo.: Paradigm Press, 2005.
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