Breaking Barriers Or Burning Bridges? The Al Jazeera Story

1544 words - 6 pages

The Al-Jazeera phenomenonThe Qatar-based television news station Al-Jazeera ('the island') was established by the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, in November 1996. The Sheikh took power in 1995 at age 44 by coup, ousting his own father. As part of his sweeping changes Al- Jazeera was commissioned with a start-up grant of $137 million.The network was resurrected from the ashes of a failed venture between the BBC and Saudi Arabia. With its polished productions; experienced, professional staff - many veterans of the BBC - all native Arabic speakers; its programming was liberated from the state-controlled censorship that had dominated Arab media - and it was free to anyone with a satellite dish (Reynolds, G., 2003).Its mainstream online Arabic news site, www.aljazeera.net, was launched in January 2001, followed by its English sister site www.english.net two years later. However the English site was shut down by hackers the following day, probably due to its graphic portrayal of dead US soldiers. The site was quickly restored and continues to provide hard-hitting, visually explicit news.Considering its wide-reaching influence, Al Jazeera's newsroom is insignificant. When Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak visited in 2000, he asked incredulously "All this noise comes from this little matchbox?" (Zednik, R., 2002).The smallest of Al Jazeera's three broadcast studios sits behind a glass wall, where anchors read five-minute newscasts every hour. On the opposite side of the room an illuminated map of the world, flanked by thirty-two television screens, serves as a backdrop for the newscasts. In between are forty-eight computer terminals (ibid).The Al-Jazeera network has shown rapid growth from six hours a day to twelve then, in 1999, to twenty-four hours. It employs 500 people, including seventy journalists. Of its twenty-seven bureaus are offices in Washington, New York, London, Paris, Brussels, Moscow, Jakarta, and Islamabad. Its journalists represent most members of the Arab League, including Moroccan producers, Syrian talk show hosts, Iraqi translators, Algerian fixers, Sudanese librarians, Palestinian secretaries, and Qatari executives (ibid).Dubbed the "CNN of the Arab world," Al-Jazeera was virtually unknown in the west until September 11, 2001. The network quickly became the only source for regional news and live war footage, providing the latest information on the world's biggest news story. Overnight, new viewers increased from 35 million to billions (Kelley, E., 2002).Chief Editor Ahmed Al-Sheikh claims the network's motto is "a responsibility to inform and educate". With that in mind, the network's success can be attributed both to risk taking and the management skills of its executives (Zednik, R., 2002).Al-Jazeera knows that many Arab viewers are as frustrated by official misinformation on political and economic situations close to home, as American viewers are with the Bush administration's one-sided view of the war on...

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