Al-Jazeera television: a compilation of informationby Stephen Hewitt | Published 9 April 2005 | Last updated 31 December 2020
He who pays the piper calls the tune, as the English saying has it. So whose tune does Al-Jazeera play?
“The station is partially financed by the government of Qatar, which also hosts the US military's Central Command for the region.” - “Al-Jazeera journalists banned by Baghdad”, AP in Independent, 3 April 2003
On the subject of the US military's Central Command, the following quotations are all from US government websites:
Reporting an exercise in December 2002 at the Qatar command centre: “The exercise tests command and control for U.S. Central Command. The command's headquarters is at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla.”... “Officials said that anything they can do at MacDill they can do here.” - “Transformation on Display in Qatar”, Jim Garamone American Forces Press Service, 12 December 2002
“Army Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of U.S. Central Command, introduces Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld at a town hall meeting with troops at Central Command Forward headquarters in Qatar, on April 28, 2003.” - a photo caption on the Pentagon website
“ I want to thank the members of the armed forces of Qatar and I want to thank the Amir of Qatar, with whom I just met, for his hospitality and for his friendship to the United States of America.” George W. Bush at Camp As Sayliyah, Qatar, 5 June 2003 as quoted at 'President Talks to Troops in Qatar', June 5, 2003
A UK government press release of around 350 words dated 14 October 2020 had the heading “UK and Qatar commit to a stronger defence relationship” (photo). “Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and his Qatari counterpart have committed to strengthening the UK-Qatar defence relationship during a joint visit to RAF Coningsby today.” It went on to say that “two Defence Ministers signed a Statement of Intent setting out how the UK will offer a British base for the Qatari Emiri Air Force’s (QEAF) recently acquired nine Hawk aircraft.”
It quoted UK Defence Secretary as saying “Today we mark the start of an exciting new chapter in the longstanding defence relationship between the UK and Qatar, reinforcing and strengthening the bonds our Armed Forces already share.”
It continued by saying that he and his Qatari counterpart “also officially opened the joint Typhoon squadron (12 Squadron) headquarters during their visit to RAF Coningsby today.” and that “12 Squadron is the UK’s first joint squadron since World War Two”.
It concluded “Today’s event builds upon the Defence Secretary’s talks with HE Dr Khalid during his visit to Qatar in September, where he also toured the Combined Air Operations Centre in Al Udeid, where strikes are coordinated from as part of Operation Shader.”
Morand Fachot, of the European Broadcasting Union, provides some historical background information:
BBC Arabic TV, a commercial operation by BBC Worldwide Television, was launched in 1994 and collapsed within two years. The BBC was responsible for the channel's programming, but it was entirely reliant for its transmission on the Rome-based pay-TV operator Orbit Communications, owned by a holding company controlled by a brother-in-law of Saudi Arabia's King Fahd. After the channel aired programmes deemed negative by the Saudis, Orbit unilaterally terminated its contract with the BBC in 1996.
Of Al Jazeera, he writes: “Set up in November 1996 with a loan from the Qatari government, the channel has not yet achieved financial independence. It benefited from the collapse of BBC Arabic TV, recruiting several of its journalists.” “Winning Arab hearts and minds”, Morand Fachot, 2003
Available from http://www.ebu.ch/CMSimages/en/online_12_censure_guerre_tcm6-4112.pdf (This article also discusses other Arabic-language broadcasters, including some historical ones such as the British “Sharq al-Adna”)
...“the Emir issued a decree establishing a new channel called Al-Jazeera a month later.” (The “later” is relative to an event in January 1996)...“A three-man committee, consisting of a Qatari journalist, one of the Emir's close financial advisers and the under-secretary of the Ministry of Information, was appointed to recruit staff. The Qatari Council of Ministers, or Supreme Council, appointed a seven-man board of directors for Al-Jazeera, each of whom would sit for three years. Sheikh Hamad bin Thamir Al Thani, then a deputy Minister of Information, was appointed chairman.” “Al-Jazeera How Arab TV News Challenged the World”, Hugh Miles, Abacus (an imprint of Time Warner Book Group UK), 2005, page 28
“Nevertheless, the Qatari Foreign Minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jasim bin Jabr Al Thani, who was a major shareholder in Al-Jazeera,”... Ibid., page 57
“To help start it up, the Emir gave Al-Jazeera five hundred million Qatari riyals ($137 million) as what was supposed to be a one-off payment”. Miles mentions sources of revenue by which Al-Jazeera was supposedly going to support itself - selling advertising, programmes and exclusive footage and hiring out equipment. Al-Jazeera failed to raise enough money from these and “is still receiving financial aid from the government.” Ibid., page 28
Miles informs us that it was in London that an Al-Jazeera pilot programme was made: ...“after the Emir watched a six-hour pilot prepared by the committee in London, he settled on an all-news format. Nine months later, on 1 November 1996, Al-Jazeera began broadcasting.” Ibid., page 28
“The BBC Arabic service was abruptly switched off on the night of Saturday 20 April 1996, eighteen months after it had begun.” Ibid., page 32
“The sudden closure of the Arabic channel left about 250 BBC-trained Arab journalists, broadcasters and media administrators out of a job.”...“Offered the opportunity to work on a news channel without the same editorial reservations, 120 of them swiftly signed up with Al Jazeera, which had just been established.” Ibid., page 33
“About a third of Al-Jazeera's staff come from the aborted BBC Arabic-language news operation.” Ibid., page 344
“No one at the time could have guessed that the ashes of the BBC project would turn out to be the most solid of foundations for Al-Jazeera.” Ibid., page 34
On the next page, Miles describes another incident where apparent misfortune and a suddenly terminated contract turned out to be rather convenient for Al-Jazeera. According to Miles, Al-Jazeera wanted a C-band transponder on the Arabic (and Saudi-controlled) satellite, Arabsat, but had only a Ku-band one. (The C-band can be received on a smaller dish). The lease on the “coveted” C-band transponder was held by Canal France International (CFI). But in July 1997, in a “technical mix-up” at France Telecom a “hard-core pornographic film” was broadcast on the CFI channel instead of a programme intended for school children. Following this incident...“Arabsat tore up the contract and expelled CFI from the Arabsat satellite, leaving the coveted C-band slot free. Al-Jazeera took the channel's place a few months later. History does not record what happened to the French technician who was responsible for the mishap.” Ibid., page 35
“The head of Al-Jazeera's US operations was Hafez al-Mirazi, who had spent thirteen years working with Voice of America.” Ibid., page 226
“The correspondent in the autonomous Kurdish zone was a Jordanian Palestinian called Waddah Khanfar, who, after the war, became the Baghdad bureau chief and in October 2003, Al-Jazeera's director-general.” Ibid., page 226
“In the run-up to the war the BBC approached Al-Jazeera to cut a news-gathering deal. It wanted access to some of Al-Jazeera's facilities, notably its up-link in Kabul. In exchange, the BBC was offering help in training staff and in building the new Al-Jazeera English-language website.”...“This deal done, a month later Al-Jazeera and the BBC agreed on a second, much bigger deal. Al-Jazeera bought a thousand hours of BBC current affairs, wildlife, history and science documentaries”... ...“the British Council arranged a journalist exchange programme between the two news organizations. Trainees from each company would spend some time working in each other's facilities, in London or Doha.” Ibid., page 223
“A week later Adnan al-Sharif, a British national of Palestinian descent, became the network's acting general manager. He had started at the BBC in 1989 as a current affairs and news producer and a presenter on the BBC World Service's Arabic-language radio programmes. Together with Sami Haddad and Jamil Azar, Al-Sharif had been one of the founders of Al-Jazeera and, before returning to work at the BBC again for a few years, he had been one of the stations original anchors.” Ibid., page 292
London is mentioned in a quote from the Jerusalem Post: “'There I was in Jerusalem, with [Barghouti] in Ramallah, and the moderator was sitting in Al-Jazeera's London studio,”... Ibid., page 96
...“but in 2003 the BBC reported that the channel had to be bailed out by the Emir, again, to the tune of $29.5 million.”...“It refuses to disclose exact figures for its revenue or spending, but it has an operating budget of about $40 million a year and in 2002 it took only about a fifth of this in advertising.”... “Al-Jazeera started life on a loan of five hundred million Qatari riyals ($137 million) from the Emir and he has since shelled out several consecutive loans, probably amounting to tens of millions more dollars. Exactly how many of these millions are government money and how many are his personal millions is not clear. At least two of his dynastic relatives are on the board of directors.” Ibid., page 346
Of Jihad Ballout, “Al-Jazeera's charismatic manager of media relations”, Miles tells us “Before joining Al-Jazeera, he worked in PR for Phillip Morris”... Ibid., page 55
“When the statue of Saddam Hussein was toppled in Fardus Square, Al-Jazeera veteran Maher Abdullah was there to give a blow-by-blow account.” Ibid., page 275
“Al-Jazeera depends heavily on old British and American documentaries to fill its schedule and it also depends heavily on a single religious scholar for too many of its religious opinions: Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi.” Ibid., page 337-8 “Sheikh al-Qaradawi is a religious exile, expelled from his native Egypt forty years ago for membership of a religious organization called the Muslim Brotherhood that for decades opposed the Egyptian government. After a bungled assassination attempt on Egypt's president Nasser, many members of the Brotherhood were rounded up, imprisoned and tortured.” Ibid., page 42
“Two of Al-Jazeera's regular Israeli guests were Gideon Ezra, former deputy head of the General Security Service (GSS), and Yigal Carmon, former counter-terrorism adviser to Prime Ministers Shamir and Rabin”. Ibid., page 95. For a glimpse of some other activities of Yigal Carmon, who “spent 22 years in Israeli military intelligence”, see the article “Selective Memri”, Brian Whitaker, Guardian, August 12, 2002 (external link)
Miles writes of the ruler, Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani “He later went to Britain's Sandhurst military academy, until returned to Qatar in 1977, when he became Minister of Defence. He still has a house near Windsor, Berkshire.” Ibid., pages 13,14
After Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani had ousted his father from power in a coup, Miles tells us: “With the help of the Washington law firm Paton Boggs, he froze the money that his father had ladled out of the national reserve, thus ending his dream of a return to power.” Ibid., page 14
Both Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jabr Al-Thani (“Minister of Foreign Affairs”) and Hamad bin Thamer Al Thani (“Minister of Broadcasting and Chairman, Al Jazeera Satellite Channel”) appear in the Annual Meeting 2003 Selected List of Participants of the World Economic Forum website, indicating that they attended in Davos in 2003. Among the eleven organisations represented on this list under the heading “Media Leaders”, Al-Jazeera stands out as one of only two that is not instantly recognisable as either British or American. (The other is the European Broadcasting Union).
The World Economic Forum website also contains a biographical note on Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani (“Emir of the State of Qatar; Chairman, Islamic Conference Organization, Qatar”) which includes “1971, graduate, Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst”. He also appears in a photograph “taken at the Annual Meeting 2002”.
- Observer article: Revealed: How MI5 vets BBC staff David Leigh and Paul Lashmar, Observer, 18 August 1985, page 1
- Times article: MI6 fed Cold War propaganda to BBC Michael Evans, Times, 20 October 1997, page 8
- Guardian article: Selective Memri Brian Whitaker, Guardian, 12 August 2002