Al Jazeera (meaning “Island” or “Peninsula”), the Arab satellite TV news station, was established in Qatar in 1996. Start-up investment was provided by the Qatari emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani. In stark contrast to the government-controlled media throughout the Arab world, Al Jazeera quickly earned a reputation and a widespread global audience for its independent programming and content.
With a motto of “the opinion and the other opinion,” Al Jazeera covered the activities and political philosophy of Osama bin Laden as early as 1999. Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States, bin Laden sent the station cassettes with his political messages.
Journalists and talk show hosts at Al Jazeera covered hitherto forbidden topics such as the human rights and political failures of Arab regimes. They also interviewed Israelis on a wide variety of issues. Al Jazeera earned the enmity of Arab governments, many of which made no secret of their desire to preempt or stop its programs. Al Jazeera’s talk shows focused on sensitive subjects.
Al Jazeera’s independent coverage was initially praised in the West, but after the station carried negative stories about the U.S. war and subsequent occupation in Iraq from 2003 onward, the United States, under the George W. Bush administration, publicly criticized Al Jazeera’s coverage as biased. At the same time, the United States was accused of planting or paying for positive stories to be carried in the Iraqi media.
The success of Al Jazeera in attracting a huge audience demonstrated the impact of technology and highlighted the importance of information sources to audiences around the world in the 21st century.