Al Jazeera Tells its Story: In-Depth Studies

At the beginning of November 2021, Al Jazeera Media Network published a book entitled, Al Jazeera Tells its Story: In-Depth Studies, authored by a select group of researchers within the network. The book contains research that analyses Al Jazeera’s media model and its characteristics and reveals the relationship between the institution and its Arab and global audience on one hand and its relationship with Arab and international authorities on the other.

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Al Jazeera Tells Its Story

In-Depth Investigations

Edited by:

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First Edition: 2022

ISBN: 978-625-8479-26-3

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Contents Notes on Contributors.........................................................................5 Foreword. .............................................................................................. 9 Introduction......................................................................................... 13 Chapter 1 : Founding Story..............................................................19 Lhaj Mohamed Nacik Chapter 2 : Al Jazeera’s Institutional Development .....................43 Karim Mejri Chapter 3: Al Jazeera’s Digital Leadership..................................77 Mohammed Mukhtar Al Khalil Chapter 4: Serving Professionalism Through Quality................105 Abdullah al-Tahawi Chapter 5: Al Jazeera’s News Sources: Network of Correspondents and Significance of Location...............................131 Mohamed Daoud El-Ali Chapter 6: Al Jazeera’s Mark in the Making of Today’s Media Industry: Characteristics and Merits............................................153 Mohamed Erraji Chapter 7: The Human Dimension of Al Jazeera›s Editorial Policy and Field Coverage.............................................................179 Yehya Ghanem


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Chapter 8: Al Jazeera’s Audience: From Shocking Contexts to Conditions of Change......................................................................197 Abdeslam Razaq Chapter 9: Al Jazeera in Academic Studies...............................221 Ezzeddine Abdelmoula Chapter 10: Al Jazeera in the Face of State Violence and Power Centre Pressures...........................................................257 Liqaa Maki Chapter 11: Targeting the Witness...............................................281 Fatima al-Smadi

References......................................................................................... 311


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Notes on Contributors Lhaj Mohamed Nacik is a Researcher at Al Jazeera Centre for Studies (AJCS) with a doctorate in history. His research has been published in peer-reviewed journals including “Tabayyun”, published by the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, as well as “Hespéris-Tamuda” published by Mohammad V University in Rabat, Morocco. His most recent works include a chapter in the book “Morocco’s Contemporary History: Past and the Present” , published in 2021 by Mohammad V University. He joined Al Jazeera in 2004 and has produced a number of programmes and documentary films. Karim Mejri is a Researcher focused on the Balkans and Eastern Eu- rope with a doctorate in international and diplomatic relations from the Centre d’Études Diplomatiques et Stratégiques (CEDS) in Paris. He joined Al Jazeera in 2009 as part of the Department of International Media Relations. He then moved to the newsroom as a Producer for the “Mir’at al-Sahafa” programme, and then to the Quality Control Depart- ment as an Executive Producer. He has worked as a Senior Researcher for Al Jazeera Centre for Studies as well as Al Jazeera’s Public Liberties and Human Rights Centre, and published two books, a number of re- search papers, and translated books and academic studies. Mohammed Mukhtar Al Khalil has been the Director of Al Jazeera Centre for Studies since 2018 and holds a doctorate in political science. He began his professional media career in Mauritania, then worked for Qatar’s al-Sharq newspaper as a Journalist and head of its political sec- tion before joining Al Jazeera in 2000. He was among the founding members of the website as an Editorial Secretary, then assistant to the Managing Editor and finally as Managing Editor. He specializes in international relations and geopolitics of the Arab world and western Africa. He also has experience in training and consulting on electronic journalism, journalistic editing and establishment and management of media organisations. Abdullah Al-Tahawi is a Journalist and Writer who oversees the proj- ect section of He specializes in documentaries and has helped produce several of them, including Pope Shenouda , al-Azhar


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and al-Raqeeb series. He joined Al Jazeera in 2011 as a News Producer and then joined the Quality and Editing Standards department in 2014, where he worked on research reports and editorial guides. He has made contributions in the field of interfaith dialogue and has published a book “Sectarian Conflict or Identity Struggle?” as well as research papers in a number of specialised journals and websites. Mohamed Daoud El-Ali oversees the Slow Journalism Unit at AlJa- and holds a doctorate in philology from Sofia University-St. Kliment Ohridski. He joined Al Jazeera in 2004 as an Online Editor. Before that, he was a Reporter, Editor, and Columnist for Palestinian, Emirati and Bulgarian newspapers and magazines. He was a programme creator for Emirati satellite channels and has been a Visiting Professor of Journalism in al-Sharqa, UAE and Qatar. His publications include “Eurasia” published in Amman and “A Journey to Somalia’s Islamic Courts” and “The Polish Experience” published in Beirut. Mohamed Erraji is a Researcher at Al Jazeera Centre for Studies where he oversees the Media Studies program. He is the Editorial Sec- retary for the “Lubab” Journal of Strategic and Media studies. Before he joined AJCS, he was part of Al Jazeera’s Quality Control Department. He holds a doctorate in media and has published a number of studies on media, communications and critical analysis of media discourse. He has contributed a number of book chapters and edited two books, “The Arab Electronic Media Environment: Development, Context and Chal- lenges”, and “The Power of Social Media: Its Impact on Traditional Media and Political Ecosystems”. Yehya Ghanem has been a Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa Ana- lyst for Al Jazeera ’s English channel, a member of the planning com- mittee, and Producer and Presenter for the “Talk to Al Jazeera” pro- gramme since 2014. Before joining Al Jazeera, he was a Residential Fellow at New York University’s media department. Prior to that, he was Editor-in-Chief of al-Ahram newspaper and its international edi- tion, as well as president of Dar al-Hilal Publishing House’s board. Ghanem has worked as a War Correspondent in a number of countries, for which he won several awards. He has produced a number of works, most recently, “Al Jazeera: Press Freedom and the Predictability of Hu- manitarian Crises”.


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Abdeslam Razaq is a Media and Political Science Researcher, spe- cializing in Maghreb and Mediterranean affairs. He holds a doctorate in public law and political science. He joined Al Jazeera in 1998 as a Reporter from Morocco, then worked as a News Producer and Edi- tor-in-Chief of news bulletins, and finally as an interpreter for Al Ja- zeera Mubasher. He has published a number of studies and book re- views in periodicals and specialised websites. In 2019, he published a book titled “Political Media and Public Opinion-Making during the Arab Spring Revolutions” and will soon publish a translation of the book “The Psychology of Arabs and Factors of Change”. Ezzeddine Abdelmoula is the Manager of Research at Al Jazeera Cen- tre for Studies and holds a doctorate in political science from the Uni- versity of Exeter in the UK. His research interests include Arab affairs, international relations, media and democracy, and political theory. He has translated, edited, and written a number of books, among them, “Ar- abs, Democracy, and Public Sphere in the Age of Multiple Screens”. He has also contributed a number of book chapters and published research papers in periodicals. He joined Al Jazeera in 2005, and worked in the International Relations Department before joining AJCS. Liqaa Maki is a Senior Researcher at Al Jazeera Centre for Studies and the Editor-in-Chief of the Centre’s strategic and media studies jour- nal, “Lubab”. He holds a doctorate in media from Baghdad University, where he was also a Professor and Head of the media department, and supervised dozens of masters and doctoral theses. He has published a number of studies and media articles, and regularly appears as a Political Analyst on Al Jazeera and other channels. He joined Al Jazeera in 2004 and worked for a number of its departments before joining the Centre. Fatima al-Smadi is a Senior Researcher at Al Jazeera Centre for Studies and oversees Iran, Turkey and Central Asia studies. She specializes in Iranian affairs and has published numerous studies, books and transla- tions. Among her publications, “Political Parties in Iran” and the transla- tion of “Self-Criticism” by Ayatollah Montazeri. She obtained her doc- torate from Allameh Tabataba’i University in Iran, and was previously a University Professor in Jordan. She joined Al Jazeera in 2013 and regularly appears on its screens as a Political Analyst of Iranian affairs.


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Foreword It is wonderful that Al Jazeera is celebrating its silver jubilee this year (2021), by documenting its professional experience. Many critics have spoken about Al Jazeera and many researchers and media profes- sionals have written about it. Hundreds of academic theses and research papers have been produced about the network in universities across the world in different languages. Dozens of books and thousands of news- paper articles have been published and a number of documentaries and reports have been produced in the last twenty-five years. While some praised its work, others met it with a barrage of criticism. Several re- views and analyses have also commented on the network’s performance. Ironically, Al Jazeera did not seek to pen its own career throughout this period, nor did it document a detailed account of its own experience, from within, for those interested in learning more about the global me- dia network. It has not told the full story yet. In fact, Al Jazeera has rare- ly responded to its critics, or thanked its eulogizers, and in both cases, it has not even corrected much of the misinformation surrounding it. In their response to those who criticised the channel in good or bad faith, officials would usually say, “Leave them alone! This is part of the other opinion”. However, the dissemination of misinformation is not an opin- ion, but a falsification and therefore we have decided to correct this. This book is one of several attempts to introduce Al Jazeera from inside through its own people using well-established, deep and docu- mented methodology. Additional books, articles, studies, as well as a set of documentaries and video content have been produced as part of the material prepared for the 25th anniversary celebration on November 1, 2021. More importantly, we seek to collect, organize and classify the network’s archive from the pre-launch stage up to 2021. This will make it easier for researchers, students and historians, in particular, to access any of the original material they may need. This book presents a comprehensive overview of Al Jazeera, start- ing from its initial idea and through its launch, while highlighting the concerns and challenges it faced at every stage. It sheds light on the rap- id development that enabled Al Jazeera to shine regionally and globally


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thanks to the extensive coverage of major events in the Middle East and elsewhere. It also covers the major expansion, under which Al Jazeera transformed from a single distinguished Arabic-speaking channel to a network of multiple channels, platforms and languages. The channel has managed to outshine major international media networks, probably becoming more prestigious, interesting, controversial and capable of at- tracting a global audience through its bold and highly professional news coverage and programmes. The book further reviews the network’s progressive institutional and administrative developments, which are in line with the distinguished level it has reached. The book, which includes ‘in-depth studies’, covers various topics contributed by Al Jazeera-affiliated Researchers. Eventually, it presents a near-comprehensive ‘in-depth’ image of the Al Jazeera experience. The studies included combine a deep analysis of the Al Jazeera media model and its distinctive characteristics that made it a unique school of media. It explains the network’s relationship with the Arab and inter- national audience on the one side, and government authorities on the other. It also features an analytical insight into Al Jazeera’s impact on the global media, political environment and on academic research and studies. It offers an overview of its digital evolution, quality control, network of correspondents and the human dimension in its editorial policies as reflected by the Network’s vision and mission. Also men- tioned in the book are examples of the challenges faced by Al Jazeera during its quarter century on the air, in which it stood firm in front of authorities that neither endured the “the other opinion” nor accepted the “speak truth to power” journalistic principle. This firm commitment to professional standards has cost us dearly, with personal sacrifices in many instances. Our colleagues have been killed, wounded or detained while doing their job. Our journalists have faced repression and harass- ment that sometimes extended to their families, friends and relatives. We’ve also suffered great financial losses. Another feature of this book is the team effort that went into its production. A group of our accomplished researchers have worked to- gether to bring this work to completion. Owing to their long years of employment and accumulated experience, they combined deep knowl- edge of the network’s unique approach and the ability to manage mod-


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ern research methods, which they have already mastered through their studies and academic work. The contributors, however, did not act on their own initiative. They relied on varied and abundant documents and materials provided by the Committee on Documenting Al Jazeera Jour- ney, especially those provided by Dr. Lhaj Mohamed Nacik, who is in charge of collecting, verifying and facilitating access to these materi- als. They also took advantage of the multiple readings of their research drafts during the reviews carried out by members of the Editorial Com- mittee. This includes especially, Dr. Salah Eddin Elzein and Dr. Ezzed- dine Abdelmoula, the principal editor of this book. This collective work – that features multiple minds, eyes and expe- riences – exposes the common misconceptions about Al Jazeera, which nearly turned into facts, even in the minds of some of Al Jazeera’s em- ployees themselves. These misconceptions have been carefully exam- ined and corrected based on true, accurate, and unquestionable docu- mentation. Sometimes, we refer to more than one witness to a particular event, issue or opinion so as to not leave room for suspicion, and to come to a “state of certainty”. In this context, I would like to acknowl- edge the contribution of Dr. Ahmed Ibrahim Abushouk, Professor of history at Qatar University, who acted as an “External Reviewer” to en- hance objectivity and integrity. Dr. Abushouk reviewed the book draft and passed on useful advice. Since to err is human, we, in the Commit- tee, are grateful to anyone who suggests corrections to any mistakes identified, not only in the book, but also in the documentation works, which will be released subsequently. It is very important, before I conclude, to thank everyone who en- riched this book generously and comfortably by providing the Commit- tee with documents (written, videotaped, or audible) and accepting our invitation to give testimonies through interviews and other important materials to shape the network’s history. Some of these ‘living’ testi- monies might include a few differences that could sometimes live up to the level of contradiction. However, we decided to keep it as it is out of respect for the memories and expertise of its owners, who are already our colleagues. These testimonies, however, are instrumental in historic studies. They provide the original material for serious historians who seek to go beyond individual bias up to the highest possible objectivity.


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In this regard, we are looking for evidence to prove or deny any contra- dicting information. Eventually, we will keep all the information in the documentation files and make it accessible to researchers from now on. As for the different opinions, they belong to the individual discretion where each person interprets their perception of Al Jazeera based on their experience, information and understanding. We, in turn, do respect those different opinions out of our belief in our most prominent slogan of “The Opinion and the Other Opinion”. I seize this opportunity to thank the rest of the Committee col- leagues, whose names were not mentioned here. They offered valuable input and direct action in collecting information and documents, pro- viding advice, finding errors and proposing corrections. Our thanks also go to the proofreader and all of those who contributed to the tech- nical preparation of the content and took care of the format and designs. In conclusion, I extend special thanks to the Chairman of the Board of Directors, Sheikh Hamad bin Thamer Al Thani, who enthusiastically agreed to launch the Committee on Documenting the Al Jazeera Jour- ney project as part of the celebrations for Al Jazeera’s silver jubilee and appointed the committee members. He was never hesitant about providing the support and assistance we needed to complete this book and make it a success. Dr. Mostefa Souag Acting Director General, Al Jazeera Media Network Head of the Committee on Documenting Al Jazeera’s Journey July 2021


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Introduction Al Jazeera Tells its Story…In-Depth Investigations coincides with the twenty-fifth anniversary of the first international Arabic-language news channel and provides a documented account of its journey. In- terest in Al Jazeera’s path began early on, as a result of the wide press coverage it garnered in the Arab world and beyond, and the continuous debate about its unique character, unbiased and objective news and pro- gramme content, and editorial policies. Al Jazeera also garnered a lot of interest in the academic community, with an abundance of research and studies on the channel in an attempt to understand, analyse and draw comparisons. Interest in Al Jazeera in the past quarter of a centu- ry has produced various narratives on this unprecedented phenomenon and impact on the world’s media and political environment. Moreover, despite the amount of literature on Al Jazeera, there are still some ques- tions about its experience, some ambiguous aspects, and common mis- takes that need to be corrected. In this context, Al Jazeera Tells its Story presents the Network’s journey in its own words, distinguishing it from past individual and collective works written by outsiders. The contributing researchers all work for Al Jazeera, and have lived this experience. They followed its path from the beginning and used their familiarity to advance their re- search. Before the chapters took their final shape, an editorial commit- tee headed by the Network’s Director General spearheaded a long re- view and revision process. In addition, the book addresses common and repeated mistakes among researchers, others interested in Al Jazeera, and even its own employees; as well as answers questions about the Network’s foundation, background, and developmental stages. While the methods may differ from chapter to chapter, they all converge in adopting descriptive analysis to present the story of the network. The information gathered by the book’s contributors comes partly from official documents, oral narratives, and interviews with personalities from administrative, editorial, and technical departments. The narrative presented in this book is comprehensively and scientifi-


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cally verified, with information from primary sources in a way that no other work on Al Jazeera has managed to accomplish. This book contains eleven chapters in an effort to present a full representation of Al Jazeera’s experience from the moment of its estab- lishment, through the various developmental phases, to the effects it had on other media and political environment, ending with the challenges it faces in both its Arab surroundings and on the global stage. The first chapter narrates the story of its founding , and the circumstances in which officials in Qatar had the idea to launch an Arabic - language news channel. In this first chapter, readers follow the channel’s modest and cautious beginnings in an Arab environment that was not quite ready for a professional, free media. And our Contributors shed light on the factors that allowed Al Jazeera to succeed early on and helped it over- come, in its early years, the challenges of its region. After its founding, and in subsequent quarter century of its journey, Al Jazeera witnessed continuous institutional development and ex- panded from a single Arabic-language news channel to a global media organisation in multiple languages, with various channels, broadcast centres, and digital platforms. This aspect is explored and analysed in detail in the second chapter . The chapter also explores the adminis- trative, financial, legal, technical and innovative developments at Al Jazeera. One of the key sectors in which Al Jazeera led the way and wit- nessed monumental and fast growth was digital , and the third chapter of the book covers this. Al Jazeera launched the first Arabic news web- site, followed by a number of various platforms in other languages, and then established an entire department dedicated to lead the Network’s digital transformation with the goal of expansion and development in terms of quantity and quality. Quality has been the main driver and factor in Al Jazeera’s devel- opment and success. The Network’s teams and employees are the best in their field, with diverse practical experiences and rich involvement in global media institutions. In Al Jazeera’s newsrooms, a number of processes are in place and constantly developed to ensure and improve quality at all levels. This aspect of the Al Jazeera experience is docu-


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mented in the fourth chapter with the title Serving Professionalism through Quality . This chapter focuses on the management and pro- cesses of quality control in the organisation. The fifth chapter covers yet another factor in Al Jazeera’s success, which is its news sources , network of correspondents and strategic locations. In a short amount of time, Al Jazeera managed to establish a network of bureaus and Correspondents across most of the Arab world and expanded this network strategically to other areas of the world. As a result of this expansion and its unique relationship with its diverse au- dience, Al Jazeera has formed qualitative and quantitative news sources mostly stemming from its coverage areas. This extensive geographic spread has mixed with the unique boldness of its correspondents in fac- ing growing challenges in the field as well as their ability to be more involved than their competitors in coverage areas. In turn, this combi- nation of variables created a distinguished media model and gave Al Jazeera a unique imprint. The sixth chapter analyses Al Jazeera’s imprint and its media model characteristics , uncovering its active role in the Arab media atmosphere. Two distinct phases of this atmosphere are investigated in this chapter: “before” and “after” Al Jazeera. This chapter examines Al Jazeera’s impact on the crowded global media landscape with many competing projects created by Arab and international powers. Among the characteristics and unique marks of this media model is that Al Ja- zeera puts people at the heart of its coverage and concerns. They are at the forefront of its programmes and news coverage, and this is not restricted to Arab people, or citizens of the southern hemisphere, but rather includes all marginalised, rights-deprived people around the world, including those from the northern hemisphere. In this context, the seventh chapter examines the humanitarian dimension in Al Ja- zeera’s editorial policies and how this has been translated in its field coverage. This chapter shows that Al Jazeera’s humanitarian inclination had a positive impact as it addressed the conditions of those affected, and drew the attention of the world and humanitarian and relief organi- sations towards many tragedies. In addition to its media and humanitarian impact, Al Jazeera con- tributed to building a new, interactive Arab awareness in terms of pub-


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lic opinion. This awareness manifested in the formation of a sizeable public base and the creation of an open Arab public sphere. The Net- work’s programmes allowed audiences and experts from various back- grounds to debate and deliberate freely from the pressures of rulers or authorities. Al Jazeera’s audience, equipped with new awareness, un- precedented freedom, and a true understanding of their reality, created changeable political and social contexts that sometimes developed into popular movements, most notable is what’s now known as the Arab Spring. This is addressed in the eighth chapter , on Al Jazeera and its Audiences from Shocking Contexts to Conditions of change. Another part of Al Jazeera’s impact is covered in the ninth chap- ter , which evaluates Al Jazeera in Academic Studies. Al Jazeera’s influence and reputation goes beyond the media, political, and humani- tarian sectors. It can be clearly noticed in other areas such as academia, where the network has been the subject of hundreds of studies and re- search projects at universities around the world, in dozens of languag- es. Chapter 9 addresses Al Jazeera’s presence in academic studies and analyses its importance for university research in terms of interests, topics, curricula, and scientific disciplines. It also sheds light on various ways the network has contributed to developing, framing, and facilitat- ing research in some areas. Al Jazeera’s achievements of the past twenty-five years were not without a price. The network’s expansion and credibility came at an ex- orbitant cost. Remaining true to a consistent editorial policy and profes- sional model, and the impact this has had on the network’s media, po- litical and academic environment, required great sacrifice. The ongoing tension between the challenge presented by the network to authorities in various ways, and the way it has been targeted as a result, is explored in chapters ten and eleven. The tenth chapter, Al Jazeera in the face of state violence and pressure of power centres, explores the reasons why the network found itself, almost continuously, in this situation. The chapter gives examples of this particular challenge, starting with invit- ing authorities as guests and asking unconventional questions, to non- stop broadcasts of the reality and effects of war, to bold investigations such as the Palestine Papers , The Lobb y, The Cyprus Papers , Stealing Paradise , and How to Sell a Massacre , among others.


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The eleventh chapter, Targeting the Witness , documents the ways in which Al Jazeera has been targeted since its launch, starting with licensing refusal or withdrawal, to closing bureaus, arresting its journalists, jamming broadcast signals, and ending with the bombing of its bureaus and killing correspondents. This chapter examines various types of threats Al Jazeera has faced throughout its journey. Some of these threats came from regional and global leaders, and others came from political and sectarian pressure groups. It also addresses succes- sive attempts to destroy the network’s reputation and defame its charac- ter; meant to undermine Al Jazeera’s credibility, tarnish its image, and link it to extremism and terrorism. We hope this collective work achieves its goals by presenting a documented and verified account of Al Jazeera’s experience to its read- ers, with a deep dive into its affairs and some of its implications. It draws a clear picture of the institution’s establishment, developmen- tal stages, and work methods. This book responds to some of the un- answered questions preoccupying researchers and others interested in Al Jazeera’s pioneering experience, as well as correcting some of the common misconceptions about the global Network since its founding twenty-five years ago.


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Chapter 1

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The Founding Story Lhaj Mohamed Nacik

Introduction On Friday, 1 November 1996, Al Jazeera channel launched its first broadcast from the Qatari capital of Doha, starting a new phase of Arab media history. It moved from the phase of the complete absence of “the other opinion”, to the phase of opening the door for Arab citizens to become involved in the media world and freely express their opinions after a long period of marginalisation. Part of Sheikh Hamad Bin Khal- ifa Al Thani’s reformist vision was the establishment of Al Jazeera and changing Qatar’s media sector; and he legislated their implementation as soon as he took power on 27 June 1995. For this reason, the answer to, “Why Al Jazeera?”, and studying and writing about the channel’s experience, cannot be separated from the framework of this vision. This chapter aims to contribute to the writings about Al Jazeera’s quarter-century history. This attempt falls under what is known as “con- temporary history”, the “recent past” or even the “hot writing of his- tory”, and includes the first four years of Al Jazeera’s history (1995- 1998), the period of “establishment and intensification”. In the first year included in this study, talk began about the idea of Al Jazeera, and preparations were made to bring this idea into existence. The 1998 American-British bombing of Iraq (known as Operation Desert Fox) had a significant impact on Al Jazeera’s path. The channel gained global recognition for its coverage of this four-day attack, mak- ing it a competitor on the global journalism stage. To better understand the full picture of Al Jazeera’s emergence in a regional and international context, and the variables which led to its prominence, it is necessary to mention the angles which those who write about the channel fail to mention as well as correct the mistakes made in previous writings. This


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chapter will close by addressing how Arab governments began to view the channel with apprehension and rally against it. The backbone of this work was an oral narrative from a respect- ed group of journalists who participated in Al Jazeera’s establishment. Some of them joined a few short months after its launch and have left a distinct footprint in its path. Special care was taken when gathering oral narratives not to rely simply on well-known journalists but rather on different sources of information, unlike prior works on Al Jazeera. The oral narratives were compared to each other, then to written docu- ments, to fill in any blanks and catch any inconsistencies. Various me- dia, particularly those in Middle East served as an important resource for this work because they bore witness to Al Jazeera’s birth and closely followed its development. The Arab Media Scene before Al Jazeera’s Emergence Before Al Jazeera, the Arab media scene was limited to press or- ganisations used by Arab governments for their own benefit (hereafter “official channels” or “official Arab media”), with a tight grip on free- dom of expression and a total absence of citizen, much less opposition, voices. For decades, Arab citizens suffered an emotional assault as a result of the political propaganda from official Arab channels, a tactic practiced by all non-democratic governments in many places. When Al Jazeera emerged, most Arab media relied on sources provided to them by official Arab and western news agencies. It is worth emphasising here that western and international media outlets “are not at all impar- tial even if they are not under the control of a government, but they are subject to a value system and news sources that do not translate to the interests or benefit of Arab viewers. This bias is not limited to news and this prominent negative image of Arab and third-world citizens, with a focus on consumer values and upholding individualism are all embed- ded into dramatic productions and films by major companies” (1) . Despite the boom in the number of channels established in the Arab world during the 1990s, most were official government channels.

(1) Edmund Ghareeb and Khaled Mansour, “Arab Media at the Threshold of the Twenty-First Century”, Bahithat , (Book 6, 1999-2000), p. 18.


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Even the few private ones mainly revolved around their officials. Fur- thermore, none of them were news channels. This boom was only a symbolic development in which Arab governments used the channels as a way to extend their narratives beyond borders and target their sup- porters; and the content remained the same. A study of Gulf satellite programmes between 26 October 1996 (before Al Jazeera’s launch by about a week) and 6 December 1996 (a month and five days after its launch) found that most fell under the entertainment category, and news programmes held the third ranking. The study included Saudi TV Chan- nel 1, Kuwait TV, Abu Dhabi TV, Dubai TV, Sharjah TV, Bahrain TV, and Oman TV.

Gulf Satellite Channel Programmes by Type (1) Programme Type Hours

Percentage (%)




Documentary Films, Culture and Development







68.73 54.98 47.00 23.02

8.1 6.5 5.5 2.7




Unclassified 6.2 Al Jazeera was born during a time of monumental transformations on the international stage. The most prominent of these is what Abdel- wahab El-Affendi described as “the earthquake” that hit the region” in the early 1990s. This earthquake was the “destruction of Communism and the disintegration of what remained of Arab solidarity in the wake 52.49 (1) Abdellatif Aloofy, “What Makes Arabian Gulf Satellite TV Programs? A Comparative Analysis of the Volume, Origin, and Type of Program”, in The Information Revolution and the Arab World: Its Impact on State and Society , (Emirates Center for Strategic Studies & Re- search, 1998), p. 61-62.


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of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait”. These developments led to the collapse of many norms and sacred tenets. It can be said that many realities previously covered up by hypocrisy were now unveiled. Among these sacred tenets was the absolute rejection of rapprochement with Israel. Al Jazeera was born into this uncertain environment, which foretold major revolutions; and one of this stage’s most noticeable features was the belief in America’s divine status and reliance on it by its protectors who saw that aligning with America was an opportunity to “settle old scores” (1) . Origin of the Idea Reforming the media sector in Qatar and establishing Al Jazeera was one of the pillars of the Father Emir’s reformist vision. As research- ers Muhammad El-Nawawi and Adel Iskandar explain it, “Al Jazeera is one of several satellite channels launched by Arab governments and businessmen over the past few years [of the 1990s]. A number of Arab governments realised, as they watched CNN’s impact on an internation- al scale during the Gulf War in 1991 and beyond, the strategic impor- tance of satellite television during times of conflict” (2) . In an interview, Adnan al-Sharif, Al Jazeera’s first Director, said that when he met Qatar’s Emir for a 1995 interview with BBC Arabic , the Emir was thinking at the time of establishing a satellite channel. Hussein Jafar, manager of Al Jazeera’s Engineering Department and a former board member, confirms that plans to transform Qatar Tele- vision to a satellite channel were already in place before the Emir met with Adnan al-Sharif, based on directions that emerged after a meeting at the Emir’s palace which included Sheikh Hamad Bin Jasim Al Thani, Qatar’s Foreign Minister at the time, and Saad al-Rumaihi, Director of Qatar Television. However, a week or two after the Emir’s interview with Adnan al-Sharif, the team working on the project was invited to a (1) Abdelwahab El-Affendi, Liquidating Al Jazeera to Return the Arab World to Its Natural Path, al-Quds al-Arabi , Issue 4172, (15 October 2002), p. 19. (2) Mohammed El-Nawawi and Adel Iskandar, Al-Jazeera: The Story of The Network That Is Rattling Governments and Redefining Modern Journalism , (Westview Press: 2003), p. 38.


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meeting with Sheikh Hamad bin Jasim to notify them that the idea had changed to launching a satellite news channel similar to BBC Arabic . Jafar says the original idea came from Adnan al-Sharif, and al-Sharif confirms this, even though he says the idea initially saw opposition from some people who claimed that a channel of this type would not succeed. According to Mohammed Jasim Al-Ali, a former director of Al Jazeera, many Arab professionals were not convinced of the idea of a news channel at the time, including three candidates for Project Man- ager who were not persuaded. After the Emir’s agreement, implementation was launched by ask- ing Adnan al-Sharif to conduct a research study on the project. He turned to the experts for this study, and was aided by Laila Fanous, Head of Media Affairs for Qatar’s Embassy in London, who was a former col- league at Qatar Radio . Al-Sharif did not save a copy of the study, but he remembers that “it included full details of the news and montage rooms, and the number of employees who would work there, including a number of producers” (1) . Jafar says that al-Sharif had a significant role in establishing Al Jazeera’s newsroom, “Brother Adnan al-Sharif had a hand in the newsroom as a result of his BBC experience” (2) . Sheikh Hamad bin Thamer Al Thani, Chairman of Al Jazeera Me- dia Network’s board, says that after the dissolution of Qatar’s Media and Culture Ministry and the lifting of local media oversight, (3) the Emir summoned him for a meeting in which they discussed a news channel addressing Arab affairs. Adnan al-Sharif was selected as director for the upcoming network. The meeting was held on the second floor of what was then the Media and Culture building. Jamil Azar, Sami Haddad and others were in attendance (4) . A project management committee was established with Sheikh Hamad bin Thamer Al Thani as the president,

(1) Adnan al-Sharif, personal interview, Doha, 21 October 2020.

(2) Hussein Jafar, personal interview, Doha, 20 January 2021.

(3) See Law Number Five (5), 1998, which decreed the dissolution of the Media and Culture Ministry and distribution of its specialties:

(4) From an interview with Sheikh Hamad bin Thamer Al Thani in the film , I See, I Hear, I Speak , produced by Majed Abdulhadi and broadcast on Al Jazeera’s tenth anniversary, (No-


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Mahmoud Al-Sahlawi as his vice president and Khalaf al-Mana’i as the finance minister (1) , contrary to what was written in some academic studies (2) . The committee was expanded to also include Hussein Jafar and Abdelwahab Fakhro from Qtel (given that Qtel provided satellite services in the country), Adnan al-Sharif and Atif Dilqamoni, who was charged with administrative affairs. This committee began to meet on a daily basis in a house near the old transportation administration build- ing in Fereej Kulaib in Doha. The meetings used to last from the morn- ing to the evening (3) . Legal Path to Al Jazeera’s Founding On 8 February 1996, a law was decreed in Doha, establishing the Qatar Public Satellite Channel Corporation, which was formally published in newspapers on 19 March 1996 (4) . In its first article, the law establishes: “a public, independent organisation, legally known as the ‘Qatar Public Satellite Channel Corporation, with an independent budget and headquartered in the city of Doha, and with permission to establish branches or offices, or to employ correspondents within and beyond Qatar, and to be run by commercial practices”. The third article established a Board of Directors who were to be appointed by the Emir for a time period and compensation determined by him. This law also spelled out the Board’s powers (5) . After this law, Emiri declaration num-

vember 2006). (1) Hussein Jafar, personal interview, Ibid.

(2) See for example, Louay Y. Bahry, “The New Arab Media Phenomenon: Qatar’s Al-Ja- zeera”, Middle East Policy ”, Vol. VIII, No. 2, (June 2001), pp. 89–90. Bahry’s mistake was also relayed in Abdulkarim Ziani’s PhD thesis “La Chaîne Al-Jazira et la Guerre Contre l’Irak: Couverture Médiatique et Traitement de l’Information”, (Grenoble 3 University, France, 2007), p. 32.

(3) Hussein Jafar, personal interview, Ibid.

(4) See the text of this law at

(5) In 2001, the name “Qatar Public Satellite Channel Corporation” was replaced with “Al Ja- zeera Satellite Channel”, in accordance with Law 21, which was decreed in the same year. The First Article of the law addressed changes to the original Law 1, which established the channel


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ber four (4) appointed the following six board members of the Qatar Public Satellite Channel Corporation (1) :

1. Sheikh Hamad Bin Thamer Al Thani (President) 2. Mahmoud Abdel Aziz Al-Sahlawi (Vice President)

3. Khalaf Ahmad al-Mana’i (Member) 4. Hussein Abdullah Jafar (Member) 5. Abdel Wahid Abdullah Fakhro (Member) 6. Mohammed Jasim Al-Ali (Member)

The board members held their positions in addition to their main work or career. The second article of the law specified that members would serve for three years (2) . When the Idea Became a Reality The Al Jazeera experience was a risk by all definitions, especially for the team overseeing the construction of the channel’s buildings and facilities, because there was no pre-existing pattern to follow. Engi- neer Hussein Jafar says, “Satellites were a fairly new thing to us …we learned that our previous work differed from what we were doing at Al Jazeera…we were like students who learn something new every day at school. Making the Al Jazeera idea a reality included several paths, including the selection of a place to establish the infrastructure. A num- ber of building engineers were tasked with this, and they were given instructions to choose any place in the country that they saw fit” (3) . Jafar in 1996. See this link for the law: (1) Loay Bahry made two mistakes with regard to the board of directors. He said there were 7 board members, and that the board was established based on a decree from the Qatari Council of Ministers. See Bahry, Ibid. , p. 89-90. Abdulkarim Ziani repeated these mistakes in his PhD thesis, see Zayani, Ibid. , p. 33. (2) The news of forming the “Satellite Channel’s Council” was published by the Qatari news- paper Al Raya on its front page on 22 April 1996.

(3) Hussein Jafar personal interview, Ibid.


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confirms he is the one who proposed that Al Jazeera be housed next to Qatar Radio and Television to save on costs and take advantage of the existing infrastructure. After deliberations and official agreement to this proposal, work started on the building. A number of challenges presented themselves to the construction workers, along with a number of mistakes narrated by engineer Niyaz Ahmad Siddiqui, the right-hand man of Hussein Jafar. After completing the construction of the only programme studio, they discovered it was an entire metre short of the required height of four and a half metres. To fix this error, the engineer appointed by the Emir told them to dig one metre deep into the studio, and add four or five steps for access (1) . The selection of Al Jazeera’s journalism staff was yet another path that led to fulfilling Al Jazeera’s dream. The launch of the Al Jazeera initiative coincided with BBC Arabic ’s London office being shut down, leaving 100 well-trained journalists and technicians out of work and ready for immediate employment. From another angle, BBC Arabic ’s closure cleared the stage of all Arabic-speaking news channels. This closure coincided with the Al Jazeera project committee’s presence in London for interviews with job applicants. This is how the new recruits ended up in Doha even before the pillars of the channel’s building were erected. Salah Negm, who was among the first to arrive, says, “I arrived to Doha in June 1996, and nothing was there from Al Jazeera but a villa close to its current headquarters with a sign that said ‘Qatar Public Sat- ellite Channel Corporation’” (2) . Soon, other colleagues from the Arab world joined them, and the wheels of preparation began to turn even more quickly in anticipation for the “day of reckoning”. Name, Motto and Logo The project management team was concerned about choosing a name for its new-born initiative. They were completely conflicted about this, according to Adnan al-Sharif and Hussein Jafar, debating back and forth between “The Falcon” or the “Golden Falcon” or the “Gulf Fal-

(1) Interview with Niyaz Siddiqui by Ahmad Barakat, Al Jazeera’s Pakistan Bureau Chief, Lahore, 20 December 2020.

(2) Salah Negm, personal interview, Doha, 30 August 2020.


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con”, which was the name held by Gulf Air. They also debated whether a picture of a falcon would be included with the name. But before the team made up its mind, Sheikh Hamad bin Thamer joined them while they were in London and informed them that the Emir had chosen the name “Al Jazeera”. To choose its motto, the channel’s administration organised a con- test for its employees, and the winning submission was “The Opinion, and the Other Opinion”, from Jamil Azar (1) . Jafar Abbas says he trans- lated the motto to “The Opinion and the Counter Opinion”, but Jamil Azar disagreed, saying that it shouldn’t be “the Counter Opinion” but rather “the Other Opinion”. This was in June, four months before Al Jazeera’s launch. Another contest was organised for the selection of Al Jazeera’s logo, which Egyptian calligrapher Hamdi al-Shareef, who worked for Qatar Television, won. Adnan al-Sharif says Hamdi was on his way to present his ideas, but another logo idea came to him and he drew it on the spot with a pencil while in his car. He submitted it at the bottom of the stack of his ideas, doubting that it would be chosen. However, that was the one that caught the interest of the administration, and they unanimously approved it. It later became Al Jazeera’s official logo (2) . The pearl that sinks and turns into gold, then rises to the sky to then reveal the name, “Al Jazeera”, was Adnan al-Sharif’s idea, according to him. Apprehension: Broadcast Preparation Phase Al Jazeera’s crew members arriving from London feared their long-awaited dream would evaporate as it did when BBC Arabic shut down and nothing promised to them by officials would materialise. This was something they used to express to each other at private get-to- gethers, but also to officials, according to Mohammed Jasim Al-Ali, Al Jazeera’s previous director: “Many colleagues weren’t convinced at the time that an Arabic channel in a Gulf state would have this much

(1) Mohammed Jasim Al-Ali, personal interview, Doha, 6 September 2020.

(2) Adnan al-Sharif, personal interview, Ibid.


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freedom and operate professionally. Many were sceptical. During the preparations and experimentation phase, they began to regain confi- dence. But the true test, in their opinion, would be when the broadcast- ing actually began” (1) . Mohammed Krichen asserts that these apprehensions, and this fear that promises would not be kept, were the result of the feeling that it would be difficult for a channel such as Al Jazeera to emerge in an Arab country, especially in a Gulf environment more conservative than its Arab neighbours from a cultural and political perspective. Despite the pace and manner of this unprecedented work in the Arab world during the experimentation phase, which lessened staff scepticism some, the staff continued to wait for broadcast day” (2) . The founding team all shared the fears tied to the political and cultural reality of the Arab world, among them Jafar Abbas, the producer of the “Between the Lines” programme at the time” (3) . Staff were sceptical of such a channel’s success, a channel launched from Qatar, who was a member of the Arab League and the Arab Media Federation whose charter basically stipulates, “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours”, in the words of Abbas. He continues, “We were ap- prehensive and used to ask, ‘Will Al Jazeera remain steadfast in this approach? Will Arab audiences accept a channel with no songs or TV series? And if we held onto the freedom of the opinion and the other opinion, what will Arab rulers say? Because whatever angers them is prohibited in the Arab culture’” (4) . Salah Negm confirms these concerns as well. As Al Jazeera’s staff was preparing for launch day, they reminisced about their experiences at BBC and Arab television stations. They looked forward to what this promised channel would be like, and if it would be like BBC in terms of

(1) Mohammed Jasim Al-Ali , personal interview, Ibid.

(2) Mohammed Krichen, personal interview, Doha, 27 July 2020.

(3) According to Jafar Abbas, the programme specialised in news from non-Arab outlets, but sometimes covered exceptional things of journalistic significance from Arab outlets.

(4) Jafar Abbas, personal interview, Doha, 12 August 2020.


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