It's been vilified as inflammatory, maligned as
misleading, branded as an Al Qaeda mouthpiece and bombed
twice by the Americans. Many of its reporters and
cameramen have been incarcerated and one of its senior
reporters has been accused of terrorist related crimes.
Just a few months ago, word had it that its owner was seeking a
buyer due to U.S. pressure and a Qatari official was
quoted in The New York Times as saying: "We
really have a headache, not just from the United States
but from advertisers and from other countries as well."
He was no doubt referring to Iran, Saudi Arabia, Jordan
and Egypt among a host of others.
At the same time, it is the most popular Arabic language
news network with regular audiences ranging from 30 to
50 million. I'm referring, of course, to the
broadcasting phenomena Al Jazeera, which has taken the
Arab world by storm since its inception nine years ago,
and has contributed greatly to putting Qatar on the
However, since last February not only does the 'for sale' sign
appear to have been dismantled, the network is nearing
the launch of Al Jazeera International, a new
English-language news and current affairs network on the
lines of CNN.
Naturally, right-wing, pro-Bush America is outraged with NewsMax
reflecting its concerns in a July 18 story thus:
"The pro-terrorist Al Jazeera International will debut early next
year as a 24-hour English-language news network
headquartered in the Middle East…"
Managing Director of Al Jazeera International Nigel Parsons was
far from amused at this less than 'fair and balanced'
introduction and accused NewsMax of being "ill-informed,
slanderous and wrong" in a letter to the editor.
"Al Jazeera International will be the first English-language
international television network broadcasting from the
Middle East," wrote Parsons.
"We have no domestic agenda and no political bias. Our coverage
will be fearless, provocative, and the most informed on
what's happening on the ground in the world's hot spots.
We are fresh alternative built for viewers who want
their news fast, accurate and unvarnished…"
It's the 'unvarnished' promise that bothers the US government most
as it tries to hide the truth concerning events on the
ground in Afghanistan and Iraq from the American public,
sheltered from footage of lifeless US soldiers and Iraqi
woman and children.
The White House prefers its occupations portrayed in an antiseptic
fashion, which US networks are so proficient at doing.
Occupying soldiers handing out sweets to children is a
staple of their diet, while flag-draped caskets
returning home a definite no-no.
The last thing Washington wants is Al Jazeera beaming its
"unvarnished" reporting into millions of American homes,
especially when support for Iraq's invasion is
diminishing and military recruiters are returning from
their youthful stomping grounds such as schools,
colleges and malls, empty handed.
With Al Jazeera International poised to rock the boat, Riz Khan, a
former mainstream CNN and BBC anchor, chose to explain
his reasons for signing up with the contentious
In an article titled: "Why I joined Al Jazeera" Khan expresses
excitement at being part of Al Jazeera, which he rightly
cites as being "one of the most recognized brands on
earth" (In a recent global survey, Al Jazeera surpassed
CNN as being one of the five most recognizable brand
names up there with Microsoft)
"Al Jazeera International provides the ideal vehicle to bridge
gaps between communities in the East and West," writes
"I'm fully aware of the negative image of the Al Jazeera brand in
the U.S., especially at the government level," he says,
"but I think part of that comes from a misunderstanding
of the strong cultural position the Arabic-language
channel has among the average people of the Middle East.
It is extremely popular for being outspoken not only
about the West but also about Arab governments.
"Until now, U.S. administration-led efforts to promote a positive
image of Americans to people in the Middle East appear
to have failed miserably," he says, no doubt referring
to the US government financed Al Hurra network and Radio
Sawa, both unashamed American propaganda arms with mega
Al Jazeera International already has an ally in the new
Venezuela-backed Latin American network Telesur,
promoted by the Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez and an
alternative to US media outlets.
It's been reported that Telesur seeking a "strategic alliance"
with Al Jazeera to enhance its own Middle East coverage.
Such an alliance is likely to alienate the US
administration even further as the Chavez government is
an outspoken critic of the Bush administration and US
When it comes to Al Jazeera the Bush administration's hypocrisy is
glaring. After the network showed captured Marines
during the invasion of Iraq, Pentagon officials,
including Gen. John Abizaid, aggressively rounded on one
of Al Jazeera's reporters during a press conference
accusing the channel of breaching the Geneva
Yet, the United States had no compunction in setting aside those
same conventions when it came to detainees incarcerated
at Guantanamo and Bagram or when it publicly paraded the
corpses of Saddam Hussein's sons and broadcast the
former Iraqi dictator having his head checked for lice.
Isn't it the height of hypocrisy, too, for a nation that lauds
democracy as some kind of Holy Grail to attempt so
strong-arm Qatar into abandoning a forthright,
editorially independent broadcaster? Free speech and an
unfettered media are integral elements of any democracy.
Luckily, so far, Qatar has not succumbed.
However, there are signs that Al Jazeera did tone down its
reporting after the bombing of its offices in Kabul and
Baghdad and the arrest of its senior reporter
Syrian-born Tayseer Allouni, a resident of Spain.
Allouni rocketed to fame after an interview he conducted with
Osama bin Laden in October 2001, rejected by Al Jazeera
as being non newsworthy but shown several months after
the fact by CNN, which had a news-sharing agreement with
the Qatari network.
Al Jazeera's management was incensed. Allouni's numerous
supporters believe that this interview is the reason for
the reporter's prosecution.
On paper, though, Allouni is accused of having sheltered members
of Abu Dahdah's organization, said to be connected with
9-11, and of handing over cash to an Al Qaeda courier.
Allouni's Spanish lawyer Jose Luis Galan believes the charges
against his client are political. "No one can have any
doubt that if my client had been a journalist with Fox
News rather than Al Jazeera, he would not be on the
stand today," he is quoted as saying.
Author and journalist John R. Bradley reported in an article
headed "Will Al Jazeera bend?" on the network's pulling
of "two cartoons deemed inflammatory" from its website
on the same day a U.S. official called to complain.
Bradley cites a British minister, who after being interviewed on
the channel "thought he detected a more balanced tone
Moreover, it has been reported that Al Jazeera sacked the British
journalist and Muslim convert Yvonne Ridley, who was
imprisoned by the Taliban during a daring incursion into
Afghanistan, due to her strident pro-Iraq,
When Ridley was in charge of Al Jazeera's English-language
website, she published stories of U.S. soldiers tying-up
women and children during house-to-house searches. And
she was reportedly reprimanded for publishing pictures
of a seven-year-old girl in plastic hand restraints
after complaints from the U.S.
Al Jazeera was later to accuse the Briton of being a threat to
national security. In the event, she sued the network in
a Qatari court and won her 'unfair dismissal' case.
Despite her unfortunate experience with the broadcaster, Ridley
said after the verdict: "I still have great affection
for Al Jazeera. A lot of good people work there on both
the English and Arab side…" Today, "Sister Yvonne" is a
presenter for the London-based Islam channel and is
writing a book on Osama bin Laden.
Shaista Aziz, who worked with Ridley at Al Jazeera, and was fired
five weeks after the latter, has written about the
restrictions put upon Al Jazeera by the Pentagon.
"An Al Jazeera journalist, based in the Baghdad office and who
didn't want to be named, told me that journalists had
been brief by Al Jazeera managers to 'follow the
Reuters' news line', said Aziz.
"We were told that we would no longer be required to be digging
around for stories in Iraq and that we must ensure that
we were never first on the scene of an explosion as this
would lead to Al Jazeera staff being arrested and
targeted by U.S. soldiers.
Aziz says that "Al Jazeera staff were regularly arrested and
interrogated by U.S. occupation soldiers when I was
working for the news organization and as far as I know
the harassment is still going on.
As of June more than 20 Al Jazeera journalists had been arrested
and incarcerated by the U.S. military in Iraq, while
one, Tariq Ayoub, tragically lost his life when the
network's Baghdad office was bombed in 2003, even though
its coordinates had been handed over to the allies. The
Americans deny the office had been deliberately
Says Aziz: "The Muslim and Arab world needs a strong and
independent Al Jazeera, a news organization that will
inform its audience and treat them as intelligent
people; a news organization that is in a position to
challenge some of the one-dimensional Western news
coverage of the Middle East and its people.
"The world's biggest superpower and military machine is doing all
it can to silence independent thinking journalists and
attack press freedoms on every level. The suffocating
impact of U.S. foreign policy on Al Jazeera and other
media organizations around the world is a blow to the
very democracy that the US claims to be championing,"
In fact, the US authorities
have not only been issuing warnings to Al Jazeera and
banning it from reporting in some instances, they
displayed total paranoia over one of the station's
In December 2003, CIA analysts forced the cancellation of as many
as 30 flights and raised the terror alert to orange
because they imagined that Al Qaeda had sent covert
instructions to its cells via al Jazeera's headlines.
This year, NBC reported on that incident and found that the CIA's
brainiest, believed they had de-coded such messages into
dates and flight numbers for the targeting of the White
House, the Space Needle in Seattle and a sparsely
inhabited Virginia town.
At the time, a grave Tom Ridge, then chief of Homeland Security,
warned that "credible sources" had predicted such
attacks on the nation. Those 'credible sources" were
thankfully wrong and 18 months on Tom Ridge admitted to
NBC that the intelligence was "bizarre, unique,
unorthodox, and unprecedented". Now who can argue with
Nevertheless, even if Al Jazeera has watered down its zeal when reporting
on subjects the U.S. deems sensitive, it is still the
most-watched network throughout the Arab world and still
manages to offend an awful lot of individuals and
nations…so it must be doing something right.
But despite its amazing popularity and expansion plans, Al Jazeera
is still reported to be a loss-making enterprise,
requiring a financial injection of more than US$50
million annually as advertisers generally opt for less
controversial media outlets.
It is no doubt hoped that the launch of Al Jazeera International
will help to put the network in the black but unless it
sacrifices its journalistic integrity for a quiet life
and filthy lucre, no-one should hold their breath.
September, 2005: Under the patronage of Her Highness
Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al-Missned, Consort of His
Highness the Emir of Qatar, Al Jazeera Children’s
Channel goes on air tonight, Friday 9th of
celebrating the official inauguration, a ceremony will
be held at the Channel’s headquarters located in the
Education City in Doha. A number of national and
international officials and celebrities will be present.
Twenty-Two Arab children are invited from around the
Arab World to represent their countries at this special
Highness Sheikha Mozah initiated the idea of this joint
project between Qatar Foundation for Education, Science
and Community Development and Al Jazeera Satellite
Group. The content and programmes provided by the
channel has been carefully designed and developed for
the Arab child. JCC chose education and entertainment to
promote positive values, broadness of mind and respect.
The project was accomplished in cooperation with the
well-known French group “Lagardère Images
Children’s Channel broadcasts up to six fresh hours of
innovative children’s programmes everyday. The Channel
produces over 40 per cent of the programmes internally,
in the channel’s studios as well as with external
production companies whom the Channel contracts in other
countries (one of the highest ratio of own-produced
content of any children’s channel worldwide). JCC, a
free-to-air channel, broadcasts throughout the Arab
World via Arabsat and Nilesat satellites, and throughout
Europe via Hot Bird satellite.
the concept of “Edutainment”, JCC opens up avenues for
the Arab Children to learn about different environments
and cultures. It also helps them develop positive
self-esteem, respect their traditions and values,
appreciate people around them and develop a passion for
commemorating this announcement, His Excellency Sheikh
Hamad bin Thamer Al Thani, Chairman of the Board of Al
Jazeera Group, said: “In view of the existing state of
television, where children are exposed to violent and
inappropriate material on a daily basis, Her Highness
Sheikha Mozah made a momentous decision to establish Al
Jazeera Children’s Channel, a bright and dynamic
alternative to the current trends in television
Mahmoud Bouneb, Executive General Manager of Al Jazeera
Children’s Channel, believes that television is the most
effective medium for disseminating edutainment. He
states: “We have identified the need for a Children's
Edutainment Channel in the Arab World. Al Jazeera
Children’s Channel provides Arab youngsters and their
families around the globe, with a reliable unbiased
source of entertainment, as well as enhances their
knowledge and skills.”
About Al Jazeera Children’s Channel:
Children’s Channel (JCC), is a private shareholding
company (PSC) established as a joint venture in the
state of Qatar, between Qatar Foundation for Education,
Science and Community Development and Al Jazeera
Satellite Channel (JSC) to introduce edutainment to the
Children’s Channel (JCC) was launched in Qatar on
September 9, 2005. JCC has deployed state-of-the-art
studios and facilities to ensure it offers high quality
TV production. JCC will produce over 40 per cent of its
grid. On weekdays, it is committed to broadcasting new
programmes for 6 of the 18.5 hours and 7 of the 19.5
hours on weekends.
JCC is a free to
air station on Arabsat, Nilesat, and Hotbird, which
means reaching all of the 22 Arab countries as well as
JCC has five regional
offices in Cairo, Beirut, Amman, Rabat and Paris.
around the world can find out more about Al Jazeera
Children’s Channel (JCC), through its website (www.jcctv.net),
receive information about their
programmes and enjoy a wide range of games.