Al Jazeera, meaning "The Island" or "The (Arabian) Peninsula" is an Arabic television channel originating in Qatar. Al Jazeera claims to be the only politically-independent television station in the Middle East.
The channel began broadcasting in late 1996. In April of that year, the BBC World Service's Arabic language TV station, faced with censorship demands by the Saudi Arabian government, had shut down after two years of operation. Many of the former BBC staff members joined Al Jazeera.
The station has been sharply criticized by the US for working with extremists and leaderss such as Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. Conversely, Al Jazeera is also criticized by many of its viewers for giving air time to Israeli officials.
The station first gained significant attention in the west following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, when it broadcast videos in which Osama bin Laden and Sulaiman Abu Ghaith defended and justified the attacks. This led to criticism by the United States government that Al Jazeera was engaging in propaganda on behalf of terrorists, but Al Jazeera countered that it was merely making information available, and indeed several western television channels later followed suit in broadcasting portions of the tapes.
It is widely believed internationally that inhabitants of the Middle East are given limited information by their governments and media, and that what information there is, is biased. Thus, Al Jazeera is perceived as the most open and complete source of information in the Middle East. As a consequence, Al Jazeera is a major focus of current US propaganda efforts.
In January 2003 the BBC announced that it had signed a deal whereby it and Al Jazeera would share facilities and information -- including news footage -- a move widely seen as further endorsement of the neutrality of the channel.
The station launched an English-language edition of its online content in March of 2003, and the website was immediately attacked by crackerss, who redirected visitors to a site featuring an American flag. The managing editor of the English-language site is Joanne Tucker, born in Lebanon, daughter of an American father and a Lebanese mother. Tucker was raised in Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom, and studied at Cambridge University before joining the BBC.
On March 4, 2003 the New York Stock Exchange banned Al Jazeera (as well as several other news organizations whose identities were not revealed) from its trading floor indefinitely, citing "security concerns" as the official reason. The move was quickly mirrored by Nasdaq stock market officials. Critics have drawn the conclusion that the Bush administration's distaste for the station's reporting of the invasion of Iraq was the underlying motivation.
Al Jazeera plans to launch an English-language satellite television channel.
In May 2003, Al Jazeera briefly came under attack when the CIA released documents through the so-called "Iraqi National Congress". These documents were reported by the Sunday Times, and purported to show that the station had been infiltrated by Iraqi spies, and was regarded by Iraqi officials as part of their propaganda effort. The alleged "spies" were described by an Al Jazeera executive as having minor roles with no input on editorial decisions.
During the Iraq war, Al Jazeera faced the same reporting and movement restrictions as other stations. In addition, one of its reporters, Tayseer Allouni, was banned from the country by the Iraqi Information Ministry, while another one, Diyar Al-Omari, was banned from reporting in Iraq (both decisions were later retracted). Also at one stage it withdrew from the country, citing unreasonable interference from Iraqi officials.
On April 8 2003 Al Jazeera's office in Baghdad was attacked by US forces, killing reporter Tareq Ayyoub, despite the US having previously been informed of the office's precise location, following a similar attack on the office in Kabul, Afghanistan, during the US invasion of that country.
On September 23, 2003, Iraq suspended Al Jazeera (and Al-Arabiya) from reporting on official government activities for two weeks for what the Council stated as supporting recent attacks on council members and Coalition occupational forces. The move came after allegations by Iraqis who stated that the channel had incited anti-occupation violence (by airing statements from resistance leaders), increasing ethnic and sectarian tensions, and being supportive of the lawless resistance.
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