The rise and rise of Al Jazeera.
Issue 89 February 2012
Al Jazeera is fifteen. Mahmud Al-Rashid assesses what has made this news organisation one of the world’s top brands
Everyone knows the Emir of Qatar financed the launch of Al Jazeera, but what is not so well known is the helpful role of British taxpayers in the meteoric rise of this news organisation. For it was over 100 ex-BBC staff who were behind the launch of the channel in 1996—BBC staff trained at British taxpayers’ expense. This gathering of talent was undoubtedly key to the formation of a modern, independent broadcasting organisation in the Middle East. As Mostefa Souag, the current managing-director candidly acknowledges, “Having a lot of money is one thing, but without well-trained professional staff to carry out the vision, money itself is not enough. So we attracted the best journalists with the highest standard of ethics.” With the on-going financial involvement of the Qatari state, Mostefa remains quite undisturbed by allegations of editorial compromise. “The Emir has never questioned what we do, and as long as we can work freely and independently, I do not ask why he provides the money, I say al-hamdu-lillah.”
Seasoned journalist and correspondent Mike Hanna is more circumspect. “Objectivity does not exist; there is bias in every news organisation. What we have to do is take extra care, and avoid extremes. We have to have robust internal systems and engage in critical self-analysis, and I think we do that now in Al Jazeera better
than before.” Mike compares the funding of AJ to that of the BBC—both receive money at the behest of their respective governments. Indeed, the BBC was founded in 1922 with a licence fee provided by the British government. Mostefa contrasts AJ’s resources with other global news organisations, which are reliant upon fi nance from large corporations. He believes the Emir is an enlightened leader who has a long-term strategy for development in the region. Heather Allan, Head of Input at AJ English does not believe there is anything sinister in the Qatari state’s involvement. “If you look at the big picture, the Emir and his family are investing heavily. Look at the billions spent on education, attracting the best of everyone from across the world. Look at the Qatar Foundation, with its emphasis on art and culture and music. The rulers are making a distinct effort to build an information structure, emphasising learning, research and the fl ow of information. They want to leave a good legacy for everyone in the region.”