Al-Jazeera is a popular Arabic broadcasting news network based in the small Persian Gulf kingdom of Qatar. The network had its origins in the closure of the BBC's Arabic service in 1996; the void was filled by a Qatari government initiative that soon extended throughout the Arab world. The network reached more than 1 million viewers and was being broadcast in several frameworks by the end of 1997. Due to its bureaus in several Muslim countries, its coverage of some conflicts has been on an exclusive level, often selling video footage to Western media outlets. This occurred during Operation Desert Fox, conducted by the United States against Iraq in 1998, and again in the American-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. The network began to receive notoriety because of its willingness to play commentary and public messages by international or local terrorist organizations. In particular, the network played a video-taped message by Osama bin Laden near the beginning of the American military effort against the Taliban, inviting accompanying criticism for its earlier broadcasts of Hamas and Chechen rebel statements.
Its dominance in the Arab world has grown compared to Saudi-backed competition Al-Arabiyah, especially because of al-Jazeera's expansive English operation, which was launched in 2006. The tapping of the English-language market was seen as essential, but it led to immense controversy in the North American market. General American sympathy for Israel created concern the network would promote the views of anti-Semitic and anti-American terrorist organizations. Nevertheless, the network has been successful, adding additional coverage of Muslim countries to the English-language news market. Its English website resembles that of the BBC to a high degree and similarly divides its news among regions and uses its own company-produced maps. It prominently highlights opinion articles, trending to the left side in Western politics, on a sidebar to the right of the screen. It has been hailed for its extensive coverage of the so-called Arab Spring, with exclusive access in many cases to stories in Libya and Syria, plus exclusive video footage again popularly sought by Western-based media outlets.
The channel has historically depended on the Qatari government for financial support, at one time receiving five times as much revenue from the monarchy than it did from advertising costs. The expansion into English received various reactions within the media and news industries. Many criticized the angle from which the station was coming, openly promoting itself as a future influence on the news agenda and perceptions of Western audiences. Alternatively, its Jewish American anchor Dave Marash publicly considered it an effort to "seek out the areas neglected by the Western-oriented media" in the news. Additionally, observers and the channel's administrators have hailed it as a popular Third-World news media outlet that gives an open perspective of Arab public opinion and a significant alternative to global media dominated by Americans and Europeans.
The channel's editorial integrity has been questioned and defended because of its historically heavy dependence on and founding by the Qatari government. Today, it still receives major funding from Shaykh Hamad ibn Khalifah al-Thani, the Amir of Qatar. The staff of Al-Jazeera English (AJE) have gone through great efforts to emphasize that the channel and its website are editorially separate from the staff of Al-Jazeera Arabic (AJA). Abeer I. Al-Najjar has asserted that the channel is indeed independent from AJA, especially given an apparently purposeful effort by Al-Jazeera's overall management to minimize contact between the two staffs -- particularly their editorial teams.
Al-Jazeera's English service has been identified as filling a gap left by American and European media who cover Arab political issues to a minimum or not at all. Al-Najjar identifies the 2007 assassination of a prominent Lebanese politician as insightful and deeper analytically than token coverage provided by other networks. In this sense, it has penetrated a largely ethnocentric market where coverage of some 25 countries dominated 70 percent of major Western news outlets. However, by contrast, AJE and AJA have been criticized for focusing on only nine countries for 65 percent of its content, especially Iraq and the Palestinian territories. This has reaffirmed the more extended bias of the outlet for many critics. But the rate of coverage of these areas was much higher on the Arabic version of the channel. Nevertheless, its coverage of more detailed and nuanced issues in certain Muslim countries that do not even speak Arabic as a primary language, for example, Afghanistan, has been praised.
AJE has been considered too reflective of the Western journalists hired to manage it. The style of the channel has been considered particularly American, though influences like a stronger tendency to show graphic images have set it apart. Coverage of the network in English focuses more on terrorism and civil war than the Arabic channel, which focuses more on domestic and international politics.