The image of al-Jazeera
The effects of al-Jazeera’s rise to prominence have been diverse. Many other satellite channels have sprouted up in the region since, such as Sunni Lebanese Future TV and Saudi controlled, but Dubai based, al-Arabiya. These stations may have imitated al-Jazeera’s modern presentation but have not been able – or willing – to reach the same level of controversy, and thus influence, of the trendsetter. At the same time, al-Jazeera has attracted fierce criticism from the West for its supposed radical Islamist stance and anti-Western rhetoric. American politicians in particular have expressed their annoyance at al-Jazeera’s coverage of the recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. No one in the region subsequently believes the official American statements that the bombings of al-Jazeera’s offices in both Kabul (2001) and Baghdad (2003) were unfortunate accidents. Within the region itself, autocratic regimes have felt threatened by al-Jazeera’s airing of opposition voices and have more than once closed its foreign offices or intimidated its correspondents.
Western and local outrage or intimidation has only served to provide al-Jazeera with an aura of audacity, freedom and independence both among local Arabs and among liberals in the West. This image has become so entrenched that most observers have accepted its staff’s assertions that they operate free of censorship from the Qatari government. A good example of this perception is the influential book Al-Jazeera. The Inside Story of the Arab News Channel that is Challenging the West (2005) by the British journalist Hugh Miles. In this book, Miles explains al-Jazeera’s policy of ignoring Qatar’s deposed Emir and his former entourage in the following way: ‘Qatar is such a tiny country with a minute population that [an interview by al-Jazeera with the former Emir] would certainly not serve its audience.’ But even he has to admit that ‘there is probably an informal connection of some kind’ between the popular channel and the Qatari Emir, who personally financed its launch and continues to finance the station, which invariably makes a loss.
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