The Al-Jazeera News Network: Opportunity or Challenge for U.S. Foreign Policy in the Middle East?
CRS Report for Congress
Received through t he CRS W e b
The Al-Jazeera New s Netw o rk:
Opportunity or Challenge for U.S.
Foreign Po licy in t he Middle East?
Upda ted J uly 23, 2003
Middle East Po licy Analys t
Fo reign Affairs, De fense, and Trade Division
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
The A l-Jazeera News Network:
Opportunity or Challenge for U.S.
Foreign P olicy i n the Middle E ast?
Al-J az eera, the Arab world’s first all-news network was started b y t he Persian
Gulf monarchy of Qatar. It has come t o b e recogn iz ed as a k ey player in covering
issues of central importance t o U.S. forei gn policy i n t he Middle East: the conflict i n
Iraq, t he war on t errorism, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Al-J az eera has become
so publicly infl u ential t hat U.S. offici als now regu larly appear on the n etwork.
Although Al-J az eera h as received p raise f or its u n censored format and for airing
interviews with U.S. and Israel i offici al s, as w e l l as Arab critics of t he policies of
Arab governments, it has drawn criticism from m any observers in the United S tates
and elsewhere for a percei ved l ack of objectivity in covering th es e c o n f licts,
incl uding the activities of A l Qaeda. For t heir part, offici al s from Al-J azeera have
claimed t hat t hey m erely reflect Arab popul ar resentment of U.S. policy i n t he Middle
This paper p r o v i d e s an overview o f Al-J az eera and ex plores the d ebate
surrounding its objectivity. This report also analyz es Al-J az eera’s coverage of events
i n t h e M i ddl e E ast , speci fi cal l y, i t s coverage of event s i n Iraq, Afghani st an, and Is rael
and t he W est Bank and Gaz a S trip. The final s ection of t his report discusses policy
options regarding U.S. public diplomacy effo rts i n t he Middle East region. This paper
will be updated p eriodically.
Al-Jazeera: AnOverview ............................................1
Al-Jazeeraand Qatar ...........................................4
Issues ofConcernforU.S.ForeignPolicy ...............................6
Afghanistan&TheWaron Terrorism ..............................8
Al-Jazeeraand TheIsraeli-PalestinianConflict ......................10
PolicyOptions forCongress ........................................12
The Al-Jazeera N ews N etwork:
Opportunity or Challenge for U .S.
Foreign Policy in the Middle East?
Al -Jazeera: An Overvi ew
Al-J az eera (which m eans “the p eninsula,” or “the island”) was founded i n 1996
in Qatar after the new E m i r o f Qatar, Shaykh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani,
purchas ed the rights t o t he Arabic TV div i sion of the British Broadcas ting
Corporation (BBC ) News S ervice. The BBC had been tryi ng to develop an all-Arabic
television station i n conjunction with the S audi-owned Orbit R adio and Tel evision
Service. The j oint venture failed after the t wo parties c o u l d n ot agree o n i ssues
relatin g t o t he new s tation’s editorial independence. 1 The Qatari m onarchy, which
al so has c l o s e l y al igned itsel f with U.S. policy i n t he Persian Gulf region, was
embarking upon a limited course of pol i t i cal liberalization and believed t hat
modernizing Arab m ed ia was cen tral to its reform effort. The Emir of Qatar p rovided
Al-J azeera with an initial grant of $137 million, 2 allowing the station t o ret ai n m any
of the BBC’s recently hired Arab correspondents, m a n y of whom are p rominent
Egyptian and Lebanese journalists with western t raining.
P ri o r t o A l -J az eera, Arab audi ences coul d recei ve t h ei r n ews from ei t h er st at e-
owned m edi a or from s everal Arab satellite variet y channels that broadcas t both
entertai nment and news programming. The news on all of thes e channels was, and
still is, t o s ome degree censored a n d co n t rolled by s tate authorities. Even
transnat i o n a l , subscription-based Arab s at ellite channels tend to reflect the
viewpoints o f t he governments o f t he countries in which t hey are located. 3 Therefore,
many analys ts consi d ered Al-J az eera t o b e a novelty in the Arab world, not only
because it was t he first 2 4 hour, all-news Arabic television station, but also because
1 Is ka nda r , Ade l & M oha mme d El -Na wa wy, Al-Jazeera: How the Free Arab News Network
Scooped t he World and Changed t he Middle East , Westview Press, 2002, p. 30.
2 Despite its initial aim to be financially self-sufficient, Al -J azeera i s mostly dependent on
Qatari state f inancing (roughly $100 million annually). On the whole, the economics of Arab
satellite TV in the Middle East makes it difficult for many stations to t u r n p r o f i t s. Al -
J azeera’s controversial progr ammi ng may deter some advertisers from buying air time on
the s tation. Some observers have noted that the s tation only averages around 40-45 mi nutes
of adve rtising per day. Louay Bahry, “ T he New Arab Media Phenomenon: Qatar’s Al-
J azeera,” Middle East Policy, J une 2001.
3 Several Arab satellite TV stations are owned by Saudi Ar abian businessmen with close
ties t o t he Saudi royal f amily.
it allowed its commentat ors and guests more latitude in ex p r essing thei r opinions
(including criticisms of Arab governments) than had been previously regarded as the
norm i n t he Arab media. In fact, t he c r e a t o r s o f Al-J az eera m odeled t he station’s
form at aft er w est ern news servi ces such as t h e C abl e News Net w ork (C NN) and t he
BBC , p rofessing admiration for western s tat i ons’ roundtable discussion programs,
one-on-one interviews , and documentaries.
Although Al-J az eera borrowed t h e f o rmat of CNN, its creators s et out to
differentiate Al-J az eera from its west ern counterparts. M any of Al-J az eera’s
correspondents were d rawn to work for t he station b ecause they felt that American
and British coverage of the 1991 Gulf War was not even-handed i n t hat i t p aid
insufficient attention t o t opi c s o f i n t e r est to Arab audiences, s uch as t he plight of
Iraqi civilians during t he conflict. Thus, Al-J azeera believes t hat i t provides an
alternative perspective, particularly to the American and British news media. Al-
J azeera’s m otto, “The View and the Other Point of View,” reflect s its desire to be an
uncensored, aut h ent i cal l y Arab news source for Arabs.
Although Al-J az eera, like m ost 24-hour news netwo r ks, i ntersperses n ews
updates with headlines, s ports, and financial n ews b roadcasts throughout the d ay, its
regu larly s cheduled programming i s unconventional when compared t o o ther Arab
networks. Al-J az eera h as programs such as “The Opposite D i r ection,” “W ithout
Borders,” “The Other Opinion,” and “Open Dialogue,” each of which features a well-
known host who facili t a t e s a lively d iscu ssion with some call-in questions and
comments. Viewers of Al-J azeera have noted that the s tation’s s taff often t ry to
encourage co n f r o ntation by pitting guests with opposite viewpoints against one
another i n d ebate. This approach has p roven t o b e i nformative and entertaining for
man y viewers; however, s ome Arab i ntellect uals have criticized the approach as
being t oo sensationalistic and heat ed.
Beyond Al-J az eera’s p rogramming, many western crit i cs have accused t he
station of creating i nflammatory lead-in s egments t o news report s , w h i ch often
feat ure m ont ages of vi ol ence i n t h e W est Ban k and Gaz a Strip, Afgh anistan, or Iraq.
These s hort s nippets contain flashes of provocative p i c t u r e s , usually of human
suffering, accompanied b y d ramatic background music. Al-J az eera call e d its
coverage of Operation Iraqi Freedom, “The W ar Agai nst Iraq,” and u sed l ead-i ns t h at
showed ci vilian cas ualties i n Iraqi hospitals, ex ploding bombs in Baghdad, and U.S.
soldiers on patrol in ci vilian areas . S ome s uggest that Al-J az eera i s m erel y following
a M iddle Eas tern tradition of dramatizing news events by appealing emotionally to
the v iewer. Acco rding t o Al-J azeera’s W as hington Bureau Chief, Hafez Al-Mirazi,
“there is a feeling i n our newsroom that yo u n eed to be as realistic as possible and
carry the images o f w a r a n d t h e effect that war h as on people ... your population
shouldn’t j ust eat their d inner and watch s anitized i m a ges o n TV and video games
produced by the t echnological whiz z es i n t he Pentagon and s ay this is war.”4
4 “In t he Line of Fire,” Washington Post , April 3, 2003.
S i nce its i n c e p tion, Al-J az eera h as received an enormous amount of publicity
f o r b r e a k i n g m any o f t he taboos of self-censorship i n t he Arab media. New Y o r k
Times columnist Tom Friedman wrote t hat Al-J az eera i s “not only t he biggest media
phenomenon to hit t he Arab world s ince the a dvent of television, it also is the biggest
poli t i c a l phenomenon.”5 Indeed, m any M i ddl e E ast ern ex pert s h ave p rai s ed Al -
J azeera for creating a forum i n which Ar ab opposition m ovements can freely criticize
their host governments without fear of retr ibution. According t o Edmund Ghareeb,
an ex pert on Mi ddl e E ast ern affai rs, “i t h as raised the l evel of debate and opened t he
door for freer and m ore accurate news in the Arab world ... Al-J az e e r a h as helped
s a t i s fy a hunger in the Arab world. Its debates and discussion program s a r e
tumultuous even by western s tandards.”6
However, for al l of t h e p rai s e A l -J az eera h as recei ved, t h ere h as been an equal
amount of criticism regarding the n etwork ’s perceived l ack of objectivity. M any
west ern m edi a analysts have asserted t h at Al -J az eera’s western-style format is merely
a cover for a reporting s tyle that is slanted t oward a popular pan-Arab, p an-Islamist
viewpoint. According t o critic Fouad Ajami of J ohns Hopkins University, “no matter
how many Americans s h o w u p on Al-J az eera, the s tation will pursue its own
oppositional agenda. Al-J azeera’s reporters s e e t h e m s el v e s a s a n t i - i m p er i a l i s t s . T h e se
m e n and women are convinced that the rulers o f t he Arab world h ave given i n t o
American might; t hese are broadcas ters who play t o an Arab gallery whose political
bitternes s t hey s hare — and feed.”7 Moafac Harb, d irector of network n ews for the
U.S. government’s Middle East R adio Network, known as R adio Sawa, h as argu ed
that Al-J az eera fei gns its objectivity by inviting U.S. and Is rael i offici al s t o present
the i r v i e w s , while carrying p rovocative analysis i n t he studio, or one-sided news
stories l acking neutrality p r i or t o or following thes e s am e i nterviews.8 U.S .
Am bassador C h ri s R oss, a fl u ent Arabi c-speaker who h as appeared o n A l - J az eera
several times, commented that “i t [ Al-J az eera] has a cl ear point of view on the events
i t i s present i n g for anal ys i s and d i s cussi on ... wi t h Al -J az eera what you oft en get i s
s e v eral p eople, but all at one end o f t he spectrum. So there’s work t o b e done t o
induce m ore b alance. Bu t o n t he whole t he advent of Al-J az eera and other Arab
satellite statio n s h a s been a great step forward i n opening up the i ntellect ual and
cu ltural life o f t he Arab world.”9
In May 2003, Britain’s Sunday Tim e s rep orted that Iraqi i ntelligence files
u n c o v e red a ft er t h e Iraq w ar rev eal ed t hat Iraqi intelligen ce h a d p en et rat e d A l - J a z eera
5 T om Friedma n, “Glasnost i n t he Gulf,” Ne w Y or k T i me s , February 27, 2001.
6 Ghareeb, Edmund, “New Media a nd the Infor ma tion Revolution i n t he Arab World: An
Assessment,” The M iddle East J ournal , Summe r 2000.
7 Fouad Aj ami , “What the M uslim World i s Watching,” New Y ork Times Magazi n e ,
Nove mb er 18, 2001.
8 “Al-J azeera Deflects Criticism of its Content, News Sl ant,” Jerusalem Post , April 1, 2003.
9 “An Intervi ew with Ambassador Chris Ross,” Transnational Broadcasting Stu d i e s
Journal , Fall-Winter 2002.
and h ad agent s worki n g t here. 10 S hort l y aft er t hi s revel at i on, Al -J az eera repl aced i t s
C h i ef E x ecut i v e O ffi cer, M oham m ed J asi m Al -Al i , who h ad been C E O of Al-Jazeera
since its inception. According t o press reports, t he documents, which were obtained
i n Baghdad b y t he Iraqi N at i onal C ongress, i ndi cat ed t h at Al -Al i m ade cl ear t o Iraqi
agents that coverage would favor the S addam Hussein regime. Al-Ali will continue
to serve o n Al-J az eera’s board of directors.
Defenders of Al-Jazeera have decried criticism of the station, noting that all
newspapers and t elevision s tations have som e degree of bi as and t hat A l -J az eera h as
at leas t given ai r time to dissenti ng opinions. According t o t he Beirut-bas ed Daily
Star , “in its coverage of the Intifada (Pal es tinian uprising), and the war in
Afgh ani s t an, Al -J az eera h as act ual l y gi ven a voi ce t o every s i d e i n t he confl i ct , and
done nothing more than televise the images its reporters are s eeing.”11 In an interview
with the C h ri st i a n S ci ence Moni t o r , t he chair o f t he depart m e n t o f j ournalism and
mass communication at t he American University of Cairo rem arked t hat “sure, t he
news we get i n t he Arab worl d i s s l ant ed ... i n t h e s am e w ay t h e n ews recei ved i n t he
U.S. is biased.”12
Al -Jazeera and Qatar
There h as been consi d erabl e specul at i o n as t o w hy t h e s t at i o n h as been abl e t o
report t he news freely, gi ven t he restrictive m edia environment i n n eighboring Arab
st at es. M any com m ent at ors h ave at t em p t ed t o answer t his question by pointing t o t he
nature of the Qat ari s tate, as wel l as t o t he efforts of t he Emir of Qatar t o liberalize
Qatari soci et y, while using t hese political and s ocial reforms to promote Qat ar itsel f
a n d i n c r ease its regi onal and gl obal i nfluence. Qatar i s one of the m ost s table
countries in the M iddle East, with a p er capita in c o m e of over $25,000 for a
population o f 800,000 people, only 170,000 of w hom have citizenship (the majority
of the res t are foreign workers from S outh Eas t Asia and the P hillippines). Analysts
have pointed out that Al-J az eera’s openness and its”m averick” reporting s tyle serves
to promote Qatar as a p rogressive, m odern state i n t he Middle East. Indeed, although
the Qat ari government has publicly sought to distance itsel f from Al-J azeera, in terms
of ownership, organiz ation, and editorial output, both t he state and the s tation enjoy
a m utually benefici al relationship, in which t he visibility of Al-J az eera has led t o an
increase i n t he prominence of Qatar. T hus, Al-J az eera, although functionally
independent,13 couldbesaidtoindirectlyservethe foreign policy goals of Qatar.
10 “Report Al l e ge s t hat Iraqi Agents Infiltrated Al -J azeera,” RFE/ RL I r aq Report , Vol. 6,
No.22, May 16, 2003.
11 “Qatar’s Al-J azeera is no t pro-Zionist Enough - Fouad Aj ami ’s T aste,” Daily Star,
Nove mb er 20, 2001.
12 “World and Amer i c a W a t c h i ng Different Wars; CNN vs. Al -J azeera: Seeing is Of ten
Believi ng,” Christian Science Monitor , M arch 25, 2003.
13 Al-J azeera i s quasi-i ndependent. Its managers have a great deal of freedom in the day-t o-
day operations of the s tation; however, Al-J a zeera r e lies on Qatari-state f inancing.
Adve rtising r evenue only c overs 35-40% of Al-J azeera’s operating e xpenses. M eeting with
Al-J azeera producer, M r. K halid Al Mahmoud, J a nuary 11, 2003.
S o m e ex p erts question whether, i n t he long term, Al-J azeera can maintain
i n d ependence i f i t i s unable t o wean itself o ff of Qatari state financing. Or i gi n a l l y,
A l - J a z e e ra ex ecutives believed t hat Al-J az eera would b e p rofitable b y 2001. Two
fact ors h ave p revent ed t h e s t at i o n f r o m generat i n g m ore revenue: Fi rst , general
market conditions in the M iddle East adver tising i ndustry h ave not been favorable.
There are already s everal Arab satellite television channels and as m ore s tations come
online and the s ituation i n Iraq rem ai ns uncertain, advertising revenue will remain
uneven. Second, there i s a hesitation o n t he part of Arab conglomerates t o advertise
on Al -J az eera, as t h ey are fearful t hat A l -J az eera’s s haky rel at i onshi ps wi t h Arab
governm ent s coul d h arm t hei r busi n ess i nt eres t s . B ecause of t h ese obst acl es, t he
station is sti l l runni ng annual deficits, despite its rather lean workforce of 775
employees worldwide (CNN h as 4,000 and BBC has 3,300). S everal U.S. companies
have run advertisem ents on Al-J az eera, incl uding General M otors, Gillette, and
Procter and Gamble. 14
Al -J az eera’s cont i nued d ependence o n Q at ar’s financial b acking h as blurred t he
l i n e b et ween i t s st at us as a p ri v at e or pub lic news organiz ation. Al-J az eera h as
dem onst rat ed charact eri s t i cs o f bot h a pri v at i z ed and a st at e-r u n n ews n et work, as
Qatar ex erts little editorial control over day-to-day news reporting while subsidizing
Al-J az eera’s annual budge t . A lthough Al-J az eera m ay subtly promote Qatar’s
political outlook, it does s o under t he umbre lla of a regional n ews p rovider, making
i t appear l ess t i ed t o any one Arab governm ent . N evertheless, Al -J az eera’s ex ecut i v es
have promoted t h eir channel’s i ndependent image, which raises the following
questions: As Al-J azeera remains in an am biguous position regarding its private or
publ i c st at us, wi l l som e anal ys t s st art t o overl ook t h at st at us and t reat Al -J az eera as
just anot h e r s t a t e -run m edia outlet, albeit one more sophisticated and popular than
t h e rest ? Or, w i l l Al -J az eera s ecure t h e n ecessary advert i s i n g revenue t o cover cost s ,
perhaps l eadi n g t o a l ooser arrangem ent w i t h t h e Q at ari governm ent ?
Although Al-J azeera h as drawn p raise for its willingn ess t o d iscuss aspects o f
Arab politics previously considered off limits in Arab discourse,15 critics continue to
poi nt out t h at Al -J az eera does not t reat Qat ar w i t h t h e s am e d egree o f s crut i n y as i t
does other Arab governments. Al-J azeera executives have countered that Qatar is
relativel y free o f political strife an d t herefore does not require much attention.
H o wever, accordi n g t o t he Asian T imes , “i t (Al -J az eera) soft -peddl es i t s d o m e s t i c
critique. Al-J azeera has been dogged i n its coverage of financial and political deal s
cut b et ween Arab governm ent s and Is rael , but when al l egat i ons cam e out t h at Qat ar
had opened a trade o ffice in Tel Aviv, the s tation did not go after t he story.”16 Other
com m ent at ors h ave ask e d w h y t he st at i on h as not fully ex plored Qatar’s friendly
relationship with the U.S. military. Alt hough Al-J a z eer a’s website did cover a
Decem be r 2002 U.S. war game in Qatar, dubbed “Operation Internal Look,” there
have been few attempts to ex amine t he U.S. military pres ence in Qatar.
14 Wheeler, Brain, “Al -J azeera’s Cash Crisis,” BBC Ne ws Onl i n e , April 7, 2003.
15 Al-J azeera often has provi ded a forum f or Islami st opposition parties t o d e b a t e
government policies - a practice not wi dely accepted i n many Arab s tates.
16 Ian Urbina, “Al-J azeera: Hits, M isses, and Ricochets,” Asian Times, December 25, 2002.
Issues of Concern for U.S. Foreign Policy
Al-J az eera’s coverage of Iraq has d rawn both p raise and criticism. Al-J az eera’s
first foray into the Iraq-U.S. confrontation came i n 1998, when Iraq and t he United
States were in a s tandoff over t he removal o f U.N. weapons inspectors from Iraq. Al-
J az eera outmaneuver e d o ther networks, m ost notably CNN, by having
corresponden t s i n Iraq once t he United S tates and Britain launched air and missile
st ri kes as p art o f Operat i o n Desert Fox . Al-J az eera also obtained an ex clusive
interview with Saddam Hussein, who reportedly wanted t o d eal with a station t hat
coul d reach a w i d e A rab audi ence. S o m e observers have cont ended t hat A l -J az eera’s
popularity and credibility in the M iddle East was es t a b l i s h ed at t hat time. On t he
ot her h and, Al -J az eera’s d et ract ors accused t he net w ork o f port rayi n g Iraq as a vi ct i m
during t he standoff, focusing more on the d et ri m ent al effect s o f econom i c sanct i ons
than on Saddam Hussein’s disregard o f United Nations’ resolutions.
Al-J az eera’s coverage of the 2003 war i n Iraq h as become a s tory within the
wi der s t o ry of t h e w ar. Fol l o wi ng previ ous pat t erns, Al -J az eera h as been recogn i z ed
for i t s acces s i nsi d e Iraq, 17 while being criticized for bei ng sensationalistic and
slanted i n its coverage of the U.S. military operation. Some observers have prai sed
Al-J az eera for keeping s everal reporters and camera crews on the ground in Baghdad,
Mosul, and Bas ra and delivering live feeds of wartime footage, to which s everal U.S.
news net works, i ncl udi ng C NN, have access t hrough p art n ershi p agreem ent s .18
Accordi n g t o BusinessWeek, durin g t h e Iraq war, Al-J az eera h ad more reporters in
Iraq than any other major news station.19
Al -J az eera al s o i s one of t h e few st at i ons t h at has ai red press b ri efi n gs from
Iraqi o ffi ci al s, as wel l a s vi deo foot age whose authenticity has b een disputed of
Saddam Hussein in meetings with other senior Iraqi l eaders. S everal U .S . o ffi ci al s
and i ndependent analys ts have appeared on the stat i o n t o give commentary on t he
U.S. war effort. P rior to the s tart of the war, t he Pentagon granted Al-J az eera four
“em bedded” slots with the U.S. military. However, m ost of Al-J azeera’s reporters on
the ground have remained indep e n d e n t o f the U.S. military. According t o
Georget o wn Uni v ersi t y P rofessor S am er S h ehat a, “t he war coverage on Al -J az eera
com p ares favorabl y wi t h t h e w ar covera ge o n American networks ... they have a
perspective. It ’s from a perspective o f what t he war i s like for the Iraqi people ... but
I’ve never s een anyt hing favorable to the Iraqi regime on Al-J az eera.”20
17 Unlike many t elevision networks which had operated i n Iraq under Saddam Hussein, Al-
J azeera used mostly Ir aqi nationals as reporters, enabling t hem t o circumvent t he regi me’s
restrictive visa policies f or foreign j ournalists. See, Ahmed, Assya Y . “ Al -J azeera Under
Fire Once Again: T his T i me the GCC T hreatens Sanctions,” Transnational Broadcasting
Studies Journal , Fall-Winter 2002.
18 Al -J azeera executives accused other stations of stealing t heir live f eed during t he war.
19 “Al-J azeera: In an Intense Spotlight,” BusinessWeek Online, M arch 26, 2003.
20 “In t he Line of Fire,” Washington Post , April 3, 2003. op. cit.
Negat i v e react i o n t o A l -J az eera’s coverage of Operat i o n Iraqi Freedom has
come from m any fronts. U.S. Administration offici al s, Members of C o n gress, and
some independent analys ts were angered that U.S. p risoners of war and several d ead
U.S. soldiers weredisplayedonIraqi TV andonanAl-Jazeerabroadcastinlate
March 2003. U . S . officials accused Al-J az eera o f p roviding a v ehicle for Iraqi
propaganda and for actions that violated international rules on handling o f p risoners
of war. In testimony before the House A rmed Service C ommittee o n April 4, 2003,
W . Hays P arks, speci al assi st ant t o t he J udge Advocat e General of t h e Arm y, st at ed
t h at “Iraqi Tel evi si on and al -J az ee r a h ave aired a t ape o f U.S. s oldiers answering
questions in humiliating and insulting circumstances designed to make them object s
o f p ublic curiosity, i n violation of t he GPW (1949 Geneva Convention R elative t o
the P rotection o f P risoners of W ar).”21
Others have pointed to the overall tone of Al-J az eera’s b roadcasts, labeling t hem
inflam m a t o ry, emotional, and slanted toward covering the s uffering of the Iraqi
people, rather than Iraqis cel ebrating t he demise of t he Hussein regime. In one
broadcast fro m a Baghdad hospital where wounded children were s hown, an Al-
J az eera correspondent c o m m e n t ed with di stress that “they s aid i t would b e a clean
war, they said they wouldn’t hit ci vilians, t hey s ai d t hey wouldn’t hit infrastruct ure,
they said, and said, and said.”22 In addition, Al-J az eera h as come under fire fo r its
choice of terminology, which m any commentators h ave s uggested is heavily weighed
against t he United S tates . Fo r ex ample, coalition t roops are s ometimes called
“i nvadi ng forces”and s ui ci de at t acks are called “martyrdom operations,” terms t hat
Arab governments and the Arab m edia often u s e t o d e s c r i be the Israeli army and
In the United S tates, the New York Stoc k Ex change revoked t he credentials of
Al-J az eera, sa yi n g i t s credentials were only for news that provided “responsible”
coverage. 23 In addition, Akamai Technologi e s , an In ternet Developer b ased in
C am b ri dge, MA, cancel l ed a cont ract t o provi de web s ervi ces for A l -J az eera’s n ew
Engl i s h l angu age w ebsi t e. O n t he ot her h and, Iraqi o ffi ci al s d em anded t hat s everal
Al-J az eera correspondents l eave Iraq, accusi ng the s tation o f b eing an ex tension o f
U.S. propaganda after Al-J azeera broadcas ted images of Iraqis t rampling on pictures
of Saddam Hussein. In response, Al-J az eera s uspended cove r a ge b y its
correspondents i n northern and southern Iraq.
Nevertheless, Al-J az eera r ep o r tedly has substantially increas ed its subscriber
base si nce t he st art o f t he war and has recei ved m uch m edi a at t ent i on. An Al -J az eera
correspondent, Tariq Ayoub, was k illed i n Iraq after U.S. missiles s truck a hotel in
downtown Baghdad. The hotel has b een a b ase for f o r e i g n reporters. Al-J az eera
accused t he Uni t ed S t at es o f d el i b erat el y t arget i n g i t s j ournal i s t s , an accusat i o n t he
21 “Statement by W . Hays Parks,” House Armed Service Committee Hearing on Ir aq’s
V i olations of the Law of Armed Conflict, April 4 , 2003. Al-J azeera officials defended t heir
decision to air pictures of t he dead soldiers by sayi ng that they had t o air the pictures s o t hat
Americans can ma ke up their own mi nds about the Iraq war.
22 “Emotional T V Coverage Feeds Popular V i ew of War,” Financial Times , March 3 1 ,
23 “Al-J azeera Calls on US to Ensure Fr ee Pr ess,” Reuters , M arch 28, 2003.
United S tates d e n i e d v ehemently. During t he war i n Afghanistan in 2001, Al-
J az eera’s Kabul office was accidently struck by U.S . fire. Despite Ayoub’s d eath, a
recent art i cl e i n T h e N ew Y o rker noted a m arked improvement in relations between
Al-J azeera and the U.S. military. Accordin g t o Al-J azeera p roducer and reporter
Omar al -Issawi, “slowly, people at C ENTCOM are s tarting t o realize t hat we’re not
the enemy ... we’re not some insensitive m onster bent on bas hing America.”24
In post w ar Iraq, A l -J az eera h as cont i nued t o s lant its coverage against t he
United S tates , l a b e ling Iraqi attacks against U.S. forces as “res istance” to the
“ o c c upation.”25 Although m any o f Al-J az eera’s reports from Iraq are factual accounts
of t h e l at est event s, report s a r e o f t en fol l o wed b y cri t i cal st at em ent s of l o cal Iraqi s
without providing the perspective of coalition forces. Al-J azeera’s Iraq coverage is
often i ntroduced by a s hort s eries o f ima ges, depicting U.S. s oldiers i n a negative
Af ghani stan & The War on Ter r or i sm
Although Al-J az eera’s coverage of Operati o n D e s e rt Fox brought the s tation
much notoriety in 1998, it was its prox imity to Osama Bin Laden and the Al Qaeda
terrorist organiz ation t hat b rought the n ews n etwork into the global m a i nstream.
W h en the United S tates b egan Operatio n Enduring Freedom in A f gh anistan o n
October 7 , 2001, Al-J az eera was the only m ajor news network with a field office in
Kabul. A s w a s t h e case i n Iraq, many observers were impressed with the s tation’s
ability to “get the s coop,” as western n etwork s were forced to rebroadcast Al-J azeera
transmissions with thei r now identifiable gold l ogo i n t he corner of the s creen.
However, Al -J az eer a ’ s c o n s i d erabl e access t o t he Tal i b an and A l Q aeda al s o
brought it a high degree of s crutiny from wes tern governments, particularly after i t
aired taped speeches of Osama Bin Laden. Al-J az eera had been airing taped
intervi e w s and footage o f Osama Bi n Laden since 1998, as part of its regu lar
coverage of the region. 26 However, after t he attacks o f S eptember 11, 2001 and Al-
J az eera’s airing o f a Bi n Laden tape only hours after the s tart of Operation Enduring
Freedom , s om e w est ern m e d i a out l et s began t o accuse Al -J az eera o f b ei ng a
m out hpi ece for Al Qaeda; 27 ot her observers even accused t he st at i o n o f col l aborat i n g
Bush Administration offici al s were displeas ed with the s tation’s deci sion to ai r
the t apes , as S ecret ary of S tate Colin Powell criticized Al-J az eera for carrying
“fierce” and “irresponsible” s tatement s from Osama Bi n Laden and o ther Al Qaeda
24 Ha mpton Sides, “ Doha Postcard: A CENT COM Star,” The NewY orker , April 21 & 28,
25 “Media Occasionally Distort V iew of U.S. Role i n Iraq,” Foreign Broadcast I nformation
Service (FBIS), Document ID: GMF20030714000135, J u ly 14, 2003.
26 Al-J azeera had a ired seve ral t apes of Osama Bin Laden, including a wedding tape of one
of his s ons in K handahar i n 1999. See El-Nawawy & Iskandar, pp. 148-150.
27 One popular London newspaper dubbed Al-J a zeera a s “ Bin Laden T V .”
spokesmen. 28 Other o fficials, including National S ecurity Director, C ondoleez z a
Rice, held meetings with the m aj or U.S. news netwo r k s t o fo rmulat e a common
pol i cy t oward fut ure b roadcast s of any n ew Bi n Laden t ape. A l -J az eera s t affers and
others criticiz ed the U.S. government for t rying t o censor free s p eech. U.S. o fficials
responded b y asserting t hat t he broadcasting o f Bin Laden’s t apes could pose a threat
t o nat i onal s ecuri t y and s uggest i n g t hat h i s speeches m i ght cont ai n h i dden m essages
to followers around the world.
Since t he initial controversy over t he Bi n Laden tapes, there have been a number
of reports as to why Al Qaeda chose Al-J az eera as a conduit for its messages. Many
anal ys t s bel i eve t h at Al Qaeda w as at t ract ed t o Al -J az eera’s l arge Arabi c-speaki n g
audi ence. Observers al s o s pecu l a t ed t hat A l -J az eera, eager t o m ake headl i n es and
without rigo rous governmental scrutiny, was i n a position t o b roadcast t he Bi n Laden
tapes, as opposed to the m ore cautious Arab state m edia. S ome analysts considered
that Al Qaeda would h ave found Al-J az eera t o b e s ym pathetic to its cause based o n
the n etwork’s past coverage of Iraq in 1998. One t heory ex p laining t he Al-J az eera -
Bi n Laden connection comes from Al-J az eera’s London Bu reau Chief, Yosri Fouda,
who i nt ervi ewed t wo o f Al Qaeda’s t op l eaders, Khal i d S h ei kh Moham m ed and
Ramz i b in Al-Sheeba (both are now in U.S. custody). Fouda had b een chosen by Al
Qaeda’s l eaders t o t ell t heir story. According t o Fouda:
I asked them [Al Qaeda], first of all, why me? And t hey said t hat t here are other
j ournalists both i nside and outside o f Al-J azeera who are t hought of as havi ng
some sort of degr ee of sympathy with their cause. So f or that very reason, they
said they wanted to have this story done by someone “mo r e s ecular in his
professional approach”so t hat t heir message would car r y mo r e credibility ... it
confirmed my i nitial i mpression that there i s s omeone who understands media,29
and particularly televi sion, inside Al Qaeda.”
Al Qaeda m ay have been looki ng for an outlet like Al-J azeera, knowing t hat t he
station was eager to break a big story and would be willing t o present thei r point of
view without editorializ ing its content. In a New Y o r k T imes Magazine feat ure o n
Fouda, author Peter M aass noted that “Fouda is a chameleon ... he mix es easily at
b oth mosques and pubs. He i s, in this way, an ex cellent journalist, bec a u s e h e c a n
pret end t o b e al l t h i n gs t o al l p eopl e, i n cl udi ng a fri end t o t errori st s.”30
Some commentators h ave pointed out that Al - J a z e e r a’s coverage of U.S.
operations in Afgh anistan i n 2001 was s imilar i n focus to its coverage of Iraq a year
and a h a l f l a t e r. Agai n, critics have noted that the station aired Taliban cl aims of
military successes on t he battlefield with little or no response from U.S. o fficials. Al-
J azeera also was criticized as placi ng virtually ex cl usive emph a s i s on t he plight of
28 “Al-J azeera not to Change Coverage of Af gha n Events; Rej ects U.S. Criticism,” Al -
Wa t a n (BBC Monitoring Middl e East), October 12, 2001.
29 Schleifer, Abdullah. “Covering Al Qaeda, Covering Saddam: A Dialogue Between Al -
J a zeera London Bureau Chief Yosri Fouda and Abdullah Schleifer,” Tra n s n a t i onal
Broadcasting Studies Journal , Fall-Winter 2002.
30 M a a s s, Peter. “When Al Qaeda Calls: An Arab J ournalist’s Close Encounter w i t h
Terrorists,” New Y ork Times Magazine, February 3, 2003.
Afghan ci vilians and t he destruction caused by American bombing, airing grues ome
images o f wounded Afghan women and children. W h ereas in U.S. government
parl ance, t h e w ar i n Afgh ani s t an w as part of a l arger “war o n t errori sm ,” Al -J az eera’s
method for des cribing t he war cam e with the preface of “t he war on what i t calls
terror.”31 Anal ys ts further criticized Al-J az eera’s alleged overemphasis on covering
ci vil liberties violations of American Muslims, asserting t hat such violations were the
acts o f i ndividuals and contrary to U.S. policy.
Al -Jazeera and The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
A s one of the m ost politically divisive conflicts in the world, t he Is rael i -
P a l e stinian conflict h as been a s ource of contention for the world’s m e d i a ,
challenging t he objectivity of western and non-western m edia outlets alike. W ithin
this contex t, many observers believe that Al-J az eera i s no different. Like other Arab
networks and n ewspapers, it has c overed t he conflict from a distinctly Arab
perspective. According t o one Al-J az eera correspondent based i n t he W est Bank, “to
be obj ect i v e i n t hi s area i s not easy b ecause we l i v e h ere. W e are p art o f t he peopl e
of here. And this situation belongs t o us also, and we have our opinions.”32
In c o n t rast t o st at e-cont rol l ed A rab m edi a, A l -J az eera h as t aken t h e
cont roversi al s t ep o f b roadcast i n g i nt ervi ews wi t h and s t at em ent s b y Israel i o ffi ci al s,
a p ractice s hunned b y m any Arab channels. Al-J az eera h as invited Israeli l eaders
such as S h i m o n P eres and E hud Barak o n ai r for T V i nt ervi ews. Is rael al so has s ent
offici al s, some of whom are fluent i n Arabic, from its Foreign M inistry t o appear on
Al -J az eera. Indeed, som e A rab governm ent s, newspapers, and even Palestinian h ard-
l i n ers h ave accused A l -J az eera o f b ei ng i n l eague wi t h Is rael and act i n g as an
ex tension of Israel i i ntelligence. Al-J az eera has noted that Arab governments t end t o
vocaliz e accusations of Al-J az eera’s collaboration with Is rael during times o f t ension
between the s tation and foreign Arab governments. 33
Despite th e novelty of Is raeli o fficials o n Arab t elevision, some analys ts have
pointed out that, i n covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, A l -J az eera follows a
similar approach to its coverage of the war in Iraq and the war on terrorism in
Afgh anistan: it uses vivid, violent m ontages of Palestinian s uffering to introduce
news segm ents; i t employs language whi c h des cribes suicide bombings as
“m artyrdom operations;” and i t calls the Is r a e l i army an “occupation force.” This
approach has caused s om e ex p ert s t o suggest t h at Al -J az eera’s p ersonal i z at i o n o f t he
news, i n which it em phasizes Arab and Muslim victimization, is a t em plat e which
has b een applied i n its coverage of Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Israe l i - P a lestinian
31 See Aj ami , “What the M uslim World i s Watching.”
32 “Inside Al-J azeera,” CBS60Minutes, October 10, 2001.
33 Al -J azeera has drawn t he ire of many Arab governments over the l ast s everal ye ars,
specifically for critical coverage of Ar ab leaders. Saudi Ar abia, J ordan, and Bahrain (among
others) have u s e d s everal retaliatory techniques against Al -J azeera and Qatar itself
incl udi ng: banni ng Al -J azeera in thei r respective count ries, expelling its j ournalists,
pressuring advertisers, and even t emporarily withdrawing Ambassadors i f t he slight was
considered serious enough. Al-J azeera e xecu tives have boasted of havi ng as many official
detractors i n t he Ar ab world as i n t he United States.
conflict. Mamoun Fandy, a Middle East ex pert and media a nalyst, asserted that in
one Al-J az eera anchor’s description o f t he U.S. capture of the Baghdad airport during
t h e recent Iraq w ar, t he anchor m i s t akenl y repl aced t h e U ni t ed S t at es w i t h t h e w ord
Is rael . Accordi n g t o Fan dy, “yo u t ake t he Am eri cans, put t h e Israel i s ; you t ake t h e
Palestinians, put the Iraqi s; and t he same script go es on.”34
Al-J az eera’s d etractors also h ave accused i t o f p ropagating anti-Semitic and
anti-Is raeli v iewpoints, in an attempt t o s ensationalize its programming and boost its
ratings . In t he fall of 2002, David Duke, a former leader of the Klu Klux Klan,
appeared on the Al-J az eera t alk s how “W ithout Bo rders,” claim i n g t h a t Israeli
intelligence knew i n advance t hat t he Worl d Trade Center was about to be destroyed
and t hat i t h a d w a r n e d Is rael i s t o evacuat e t he t o wers before t h ey were hi t . 35 Duke
made the s ame argument i n a Palestinian p aper in J anuary 2002. Al-J az eera also h as
been attacked fo r broadcasting a talk show with the title “Is Zionism Worse Than
Nazism? ,” i n addition t o hosting a call-in show which discussed t he validity of the
Protocols of t he Elders of Zion . Both s hows d id present d ifferent viewpoints unlike
ot h e r Arab m edia outlets; however, s ome observers cl ai m t hat t he anti-Semitic
viewpoint was given an unfair amount of attention.
Supporters of Al-J az eera b elieve that th e s tation’s coverage is not biased, but
merely reflect s a different perspective of t he conflict, in which P al es ti n i an s are
locked into a war of indep e n d e n c e with the Israel i military. According t o Al-
J azeera’s W as hington Bureau Chief, Hafez Al-Mirazi, “The first Palestinian Intifada
(uprising) was covered b y C NN, which d irect ed its coverage to a W es tern public, and
ended u p d e-hum ani z i n g t he P al est i n i an s t ruggl e and cau s e . B u t b ecause of our
coverage, a n d that of other Arab s at ellite television channels, t he second Intifada
influenced Arab public opinion more.”36 A l - J a z eera al s o h as drawn p rai s e for i t s
st rong presence i n t h e W est Bank and Gaz a S t ri p, as t h e s t at i o n h as be en abl e t o
broadcast real-time coverage of Is raeli-Palestinian v iolence. Although t he images o f
A l - J a z e era broadcasts are o ften disturbing and b eyond the norms found on U.S.
television, proponents o f Al-J az eera claim that they present a more realistic picture
of the d a y- t o - d a y h ardships of life i n t he W est Bank and Gaz a S trip during t he
present conflict. Other commentators h ave not ed t h at even t h e P al est i n i an A ut hori t y,
like other Arab governments, has t emporar i l y s h u t d o w n A l - J az eera’s R am al l ah o ffi ce
when it disapproved o f its broadcasts.37
34 “A Different Language , a n online NewsHour Tra nscript with J i m Lehrer,” PBS Onl i n e
Ne ws Hour , April 6, 2003.
35 “Winners in the War - Before t he Invasion of Ir aq Few Outside the M iddle East had heard
of Al -J azeera,” The Guardian, April 21, 2003.
36 “We Cover t he News from an Arab Perspective,” Middle East I nsight , M arch 11, 2002.
37 In 2001, the Palestinian Authority closed Al-J azeera’s R a ma l l a h office for 3 days ,
reportedly after Chairman Yasir Arafat f elt t hat an Al-J azeera documentary h a d been t o
critical of his l eadership.
Al -Jazeera & The Ar ab Media
Although Al-J az eera h as received m uch attention for its coverage of the war in
Iraq, s ome observers suggest that, d espite its popularity, i t s hould not be treated a s
a b a r o m e t e r for m easuring t he Arab media as a whole. Currently, t here are o ther
television stations, like t he new 24-hour news network Al-Arabiya, and m any p an-
Arab newspapers , s o m e o f w hi ch are publ i s hed i n w est ern capi t al s , w hi ch reach a
wi de audi ence on a d ai l y basi s. Accordi n g t o m edi a anal ys t Davi d Hoffm an, “m o st
Am eri cans h ave h eard o f onl y A l -J az eera,”38 but in reality, Arabs get t heir news from
a v ari et y of sources, m any o f whi ch a r e “ f a r worse” t han Al -J az eera. Indeed, i n
November 2002, an Egyp tian t elevision s tation, which i s p ar t i ally government-
owned, broadcast a series entitled “Hors eman Without a Hors e . ” T h e s t o ry was a
chroni cl e o f t he Arab st ruggl e agai n st col oni al rul e and agai n st t h e est abl i s hm ent o f
the s tate of Is rael; however, i t i ncluded a sub-plot involving a forged document - the
Protocols of t he Elders of Zion - des cribing an a l l e ged J ewish plot for world39
domination, which was used by the Naz is as a pretex t for t he Holocaust.
Al -J az eera’s i m p act on t h e M i ddl e E ast ern m edi a as a whol e rem ai ns uncl ear.
Some vari ety s at ellite networks have slightly altered t heir format s t o i nclude more
debate-style talk shows. As previously mentioned, a new competitor news net work,
Al-Arabiya, has started operating i n Dubai’s m edia city in the United Arab Emirat es .
Al -Arabi ya report edl y h as recei ved a great deal of fi nanci al b acki n g from m ore
co n s ervative s ources , which may be reflect ed in its reporting s tyle. Arab M ed i a
watchers have observed that, as popular as Al -J azeera h as become, m any v iewers still
desire local news coverage, m aking Al-J a z eera only one of several n ews s ources for40
the average viewer in the M iddle Eas t. S o m e suggest t h at Al -J az eera, because of i t s
high subscription cost, is equally as popular outside of the M iddle East as within. In
the United S tates, subscribers can order Al-J azeera t hrough sat ellite dish companies,
which p ackage Al-J az eera with several o ther channels at a p rice of several hundred
Policy Options for C ongress
Al-J az eera’s ability to cover breaking news, t o promote its slick, entertai ning
format, and to proje c t subtly its pan-Arab, p an-Islamist approach to covering the
news has s parked some U.S. officials and analys ts to suggest ways of promoting a
response t o its distinctive i nfluence. Others have dismissed calls for policy responses.
Some ex perts warn t hat any overt U.S. actioncouldbeviewedas heavyhanded in a
regi o n which h as traditionally been sensitiv e t o outside involvement in regi onal o r
l o cal affai rs. Al -J az eera cl ai m s t h at U.S . st eps i nt ended t o p rom o t e a m ore b al anced
m edi a i n t he Arab worl d wi l l backfi re, b ecause Arabs wi l l consi d er i t a p ropaganda
effort of the U.S. government. A range o f possible actions has b een proposed. In one
cat egory are act i ons t h at act i v el y p rom o t e U.S . pol i cy. They i n cl ude:
38 Hoffman, David. “ Beyond Public Diplomacy,” Foreign Affairs , M arch/April 2002.
39 “Egypt Airs Anti-Semitic Series,” BBC Ne ws Onl i n e , November 7, 2002.
40 Hoffman, op.cit.
! Create an alternative Arabic L anguage Television Network.Inthe
emergency s upplemental appropriations bill of April 16, 2003 (P.L.
108-11), C on gr ess designated $30.5 million for the M iddle East
Television Network (METN). 41 According t o Norman P attiz, t he
founder and chairman of W estwood One R adio N e twork and a
member of the U. S . Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), “as
most people i n t he regi on get t heir news an d i nformation from TV,
we need to be on TV so we can ex plai n America and its policies, its
people, and its culture from our own lips rather t h a n h a v e i t
described b y t he indigenous media.”42 The ex act scope and s t yl e of
METN has yet to be determined. The BBG already s ponsors R adio
Sawa, an Arabic radio station, which combines popular music with
! Tie f oreign aid t o m e d ia reform. S ome analysts contend t hat t his
technique, which has worked for some human righ ts cases, might be
applied t o t he media as well.
! B u y commercial air time on Arab net works . During t he last two
years, the S tate Department Office of Public Diplomacy has b een
implementing t he “S hared Val ues P rogram ,” a $15 million effort to
promote p o s itive images of M uslim life i n America. TV
advertisem ents depicting American Muslims ran for 5 weeks i n l at e
2003 in Pakistan, Kuwait, Malaysia, and on some pan-Arab
channel s , but not A l - J az eera. 43 Although t he overall campaign
continues, the S tate Department stopped runni n g the commercials
after t he governments o f J ordan, Egyp t, and Le b anon refused t o
carry t h em on st at e-run t el evi s i on.
Other policy ex p e r ts have suggested more indirect ways of influencing t he Arab
media, including the following actions:
! Have U.S. officials engage the Arab med i a m o r e actively.As
previously mentioned, top U nited S tates cabinet offici al s have
appeared on Al-J az eera t elevision f or interviews. P roponents o f t his
st rat egy bel i eve t h at m o re appearances by U.S . offi ci al s, part i cul arl y
those fluent i n Arabic, w ould convey confidence in U.S. foreign
pol i cy. S k ept i cs o f t hi s s t rat egy b e l i eve t h at Al -J az eera and ot her
channels could s kew t he pre and post-interview analysis against the
! Favor t he more moderate Arab satellite networks. W ith almost a
dozen different Arab satellite channels, s ome analysts bel i eve that
41 For mo r e i n f o r ma tion o n M ET N, please see CRS Report RS21565, The M iddle East
Television Network: An Overview.
42 “U.S. t o Launch Arabic T V Channel,” BBC Ne ws Onl i n e , April 7, 2003.
43 “U.S. Propaga nda Pitch Halted,” CBSNews.com, J anuary 16, 2003.
U.S . i n t erest s w oul d b e b et t er s erved i f U .S . o ffi ci al s appeared on
less sensationalist Arab net works i n order to foster competitors to
Al -J az eera. S o m e even suggest encouragi n g U.S . com pa n i e s t o
advertise o n t hese types of stations.
! Encourage more privatization of media. Under t he auspices of the
Stat e Department’s Middle East P artnership Initiative (MEPI), there
have been plans t o fund media reform p rograms i n s ome Arab s tates.
As M E PI is just starting t o t ake shape, t he initiative could fund
media t raining for aspiring journalists, as well a s p rograms t hat
promote freedom of the p ress.44
One argument, which i s widel y circulated i n Arab i ntellect ual circl es , i s t hat t he
best way t o combat t he coverage of channels such as Al-J az eera would b e t o focus
U.S. foreign policy o n s olving the Arab-Is raeli confli c t . O t h e rs argue that biased
coverage will continue no matter what direction t he United S tates t akes its policy i n
the Middle East. With the United S tates heavily engaged i n Iraq, Afghanistan, and
el sewhere, Al-J az eera will continue to play a role i n reporting and interpreting U.S.
foreign policy t o t he Arab world.
44 F o r more i nforma tion on M EP I, please s ee CRS Report RS21457, The M iddle E a s t
Partnership Initiative: An Overview.