Al Jazeera (meaning 'The Peninsula' or 'island' in Arabic) is the largest and most controversial Arabic News Channel in the Middle East, offering news coverage 24 hours a day from around the world, with a focus on the hottest regions of conflict. The channel that sent shockwaves through the whole Arab world from its first day on air has become a global name which people, governments, and decision-makers cannot afford to ignore.
The origins of Al Jazeera dates back to 1995 when the BBC, which had built a strong tradition of objective Arabic-language news coverage through its World Service radio network, signed a deal with the Saudi owned company Orbit Communications to provide Arabic newscasts for Orbit's main Middle East channel. However, the BBC's insistence on editorial independence clashed with the Saudi government's unwillingness to permit reporting on controversial issues, such as a documentary showing graphic executions and the activities of
prominent Saudi dissidents. In April 1996, when the BBC broadcasted a story on human rights in the Saudi Kingdom which showed footage of the beheading of a criminal, Orbit pulled out of the deal throwing the station into dissolution. A few months later, disappointed by the lack of press freedom in the Arab world, Sheik Hamad (who abolished his country's Ministry of Information, the source of censorship in Saudi Arabia and most other Arab nations), pledged to let Al-Jazeera "report the news as they see it." "I believe criticism can be a good thing," the emir said in a 1997 speech, "and some discomfort for government officials is a small price to pay for this new freedom."
The station has come a long way since it was launched in November 1996. With more than 30 bureaus and dozens of correspondents covering the four corners of the world Al Jazeera has given millions of people a refreshing new perspective on global events. Free from the shackles of censorship and government control, Al Jazeera has offered its audiences in the Arab world much needed freedom of thought, independence, and room for debate.
Al Jazeera offers their viewers a different and new perspective, it was the first of the Arab TV stations to break the unwritten rule that one does not criticize another Arab regime, the source of much of its earliest controversy. But regardless of what their rulers thought, viewers were delighted to get something other than the usual pro-government propaganda. Al Jazeera has garnered its share of controversy from the West, it has been labelled by some UK newspapers as a "mouthpiece" of Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaeda, and US officials have expressed concern at what it sees as the anti-Western tone of much of its reporting.
Despite the controversy, the station's aim is to raise traditionally sidelined questions and issues. They uphold the station's longterm philosophy of maintaining “The right to speak up” by allowing everyone to express their opinion freely, encouraging debates, viewpoints and counter viewpoints. Al Jazeera's ultimate goal is to set up a proactive relationship with their audience, where the audience is not simply a visitor at the other end of the line but an integral part of the news reporting and news making process.
Al Jazeera's team of dedicated journalists with their multi-national education and diversified backgrounds share a common set of attributes: objectivity, accuracy, and a passion for truth. Al Jazeera's correspondents opened a window for the world on the millennium’s first two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Their expanded coverage competed with and sometimes outperformed their competitors in bringing into the spotlight the war’s devastating impact on people's lives. They continue to cover all viewpoints with objectivity integrity and balance.
Today, Al Jazeera aims to break the language barrier by launching an english language Al Jazeera station set to air in March 2006. The station has assembled a team of TV pros from BBC, APTN, ITV, CNN and CNBC, among others, and will have 40 bureaus worldwide. The station is expanding its goal of bringing “people and continents together” by attempting to win audiences in the Western and Asian worlds.