Al Jazeera is a broadcaster owned by the privately held Al Jazeera Media Network and it is headquartered in Doha, Qatar. The Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa, provided a loan of QAR 500 million to sustain Al Jazeera through its first five years. 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 TV channels in multiple languages.
Blaze to Brilliance
Al Jazeera’s first day on air was the 1st of November in 1996. It offered 6-hours of programming per day; which increased to 12-hours by the end of 1997. In January, 1999, employment had more than tripled in one year to 500 employees, and the agency had bureaus at a dozen sites as far as Europe and Russia. Its annual budget was estimated at about $25 million at that time.
Even after being tagged as controversial, Al Jazeera was rapidly becoming one of the most influential news agencies in its region. Eager for news beyond the official versions of events, Arabs became dedicated viewers. An 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) among the 70 satellites or terrestrial channels being broadcasted to the Middle East, most of them in Arabic . Al Jazeera’s prominence rose during the war in Afghanistan because it had opened a bureau in Kabul before the war began which gave it better access for videotaping events than other networks.
On the 2nd of January 2013, Al Jazeera Media Network announced that it purchased Current TV in the United States and would be launching an American news channel. By acquiring Current TV, Al Jazeera will significantly expand their existing distribution footprint in the U.S., as well as increase its newsgathering and reporting efforts in America.
In 1985, the unfolding of ‘Operation Desert Storm’ on CNN International channel underscored the power of live television during various political issues pertaining to those days. While other local broadcasters in the region would assiduously avoid material embarrassing to their home governments, Al Jazeera showed its unique approach by telecasting impartial news from various sources and act as a platform for discussing issues relating to the Arab world. Al Jazeera was therefore pitched as a favorite sounding board for militant groups such as Hamas and Chechen separatists.
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 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 had broad availability in the Arab world and it operated with less constraint than almost any other Arab outlet, and thus remained the most popular channel in its region. In the 2000s, the Al Jazeera network was praised by the Index on Censorship for circumventing censorship and contributing to the free exchange of information in the Arab world, and by the Webby Awards, who nominated it as one of the five best news web sites, along with BBC News, National Geographic and The Smoking Gun. In 2011, Salon.com said that Al Jazeera’s coverage of the 2011 Egyptian protests was superior to that of the American news media, while U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton also opined that the network’s news coverage was more informative, and less opinion-driven than American journalism.
Engagement that Enthralls
In January 2003, BBC announced that it had signed an agreement with Al Jazeera for sharing facilities and information, including news footage. As of 2007, the Arabic Al Jazeera channel rivaled with BBC in worldwide audiences with an estimated 40 to 50 million viewers. Al Jazeera English had an estimated reach of around 100 million households at that time. In late 2001, Al Jazeera achieved worldwide recognition, when it broadcasted video statements by Al-Qaeda leaders. Al Jazeera’s English division has partnered with ‘Livestation’ for Internet-based broadcasting. This enables viewers to watch Al Jazeera English and Al Jazeera live worldwide.
It has been voted by the website ‘Brandchannel.com’ readers as the fifth most influential global brand behind Apple, Google, Ikea and Starbucks showing the brands connect with the customers.
The first online community with its own TV show called “The Stream” has been recognised by the Royal Television Society. Beating out tough competition, ‘The Stream’ took home the award for being the most “Innovative News” show at the prestigious Royal Television Society Awards. Al Jazeera presented Israelis speaking Hebrew language on Arab TV for the first time. They were the only international news network to have correspondents in Iraq during the Operation Desert Fox bombing campaign in 1998. Al Jazeera launched a free Arabic language web site in January 2001.
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-controlled national TV stations. Al Jazeera introduced a level of freedom of speech on TV that was previously unheard of in many of these countries. The media and information processing was always balanced depicting their commitment to accuracy, objectivity, impartiality and responsibility to achieve harmony with the Arab public and its components like cultural, social and cultural rights. Too make sure it can air more news and public affairs content on its original channel, it moved its sports coverage to a new, separate channel on 1st of November in 2003.