Al Jazeera is a Qatar-based television network which began broadcasting in 1996. Al Jazeera grew in notoriety in the West for its highly critical coverage of the U.S. led invasion of Afghanistan and, especially, Iraq. Connections with Islamists facilitated access to people that other networks didn’t have, such as the Taliban in Afghanistan. Not only was Al Jazeera the first global network on the ground in Afghanistan, it could offer interviews with Taliban leaders. It was also the first network during the war that could bypass Pentagon restrictions on images of violence, which are normally controlled in western media. Thus, Al Jazeera was unique in its ability to show images not otherwise visible to the American public. To counter Al Jazeera’s perceived anti-American effects in the region, the U.S. government launched Radio Sawa and television stations Al-Hurra and Al-Iraqiya, which had relatively little following among Arab viewers.
The United States has had a complicated relationship with Al Jazeera. Al Jazeera’s coverage of the U.S. led invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq was decidedly negative and the United States government publicly condemned the station for its bias, which included broadcasting videos of Osama Bin Laden’s speeches. The US Central Intelligence Agency alleged that Al Jazeera’s broadcasts contained secret messages for al-Qaeda operatives and accused the network of sending hidden messages to Islamist radicals. Such allegations remain speculative. Negative coverage of American foreign policy has been immensely politically useful for Qatar, serving as the most important counterbalance in the country’s close political and military relationship with America.
A wider range of voices has criticized the network for its support of the Muslim Brotherhood, including Saudi Arabia and Egypt. In the wake of the 2013 popular military coup that deposed former president Muhammad Morsi, the government under Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has cracked down on Al Jazeera journalists and stations working and broadcasting in Egypt.
Leslie Evans, “Al Jazeera, Radio Sawa Founders Report on Media in the Middle East,” UCLA International Institute, November 4, 2003, accessed November 26, 2013.
Naomi Sakr. "Seen and Starting To Be Heard: Women and the Arab Media in a Decade of Change." Social Research: An International Quarterly 69 (2002): 821-850.
Tal Samuel-Azran, Al-Jazeera and US War Coverage (New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc, 2010), p. 1.