Al Jazeera was launched as a satellite channel in 1996 to fill the gap left by the closure of the BBC Arabic language television station. Since then, the station has grown into a broadcast powerhouse comprising the original Arabic channel, the international service Al Jazeera English, Al Jazeera Balkans airing in Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian languages from Sarajevo,, Al Jazeera America (that aired for only three years between 2013 and 2016 until it shut down), Al Jazeera Documentary Channel and Al Jazeera Mubasher, a channel covering live politics similar to C-SPAN in the United States.
State Media Matrix Typology: State-Controlled (SC)
Ownership and governance
Al Jazeera Media Network is organized under the laws of Qatar. The network has been fully owned by the ruler of Qatar, Emir Tamim bin Hamad al Thani, according to corporate records filed by the Qatari authorities in foreign countries. The Qatari authorities have tried in recent years to hide the links to the emir, saying that for many years they have filed wrong information in corporate documents submitted to foreign regulators.
Now, Al Jazeera has the status of “private foundation for public benefit,” which allows the station to receive funding from the Council of Ministers. It is the Council of Ministers that nominates the outlet’s top leaders who are then appointed by the ruler. They are always people close to Qatar’s ruling family. Al Jazeera’s Board of Directors, for example, is chaired by Sheikh Hamad bin Thamer Al Thani, a member of Qatar’s ruling family who also holds the position of QMC’s President.
Source of funding and budget
Al Jazeera was launched in 1996 with a loan of QAR 500m (US$ 137m) provided by the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa in support for the chain’s first five years of operations. The network doesn’t publish financial reports detailing the sources of its funding. However, its own representatives and numerous reports from independent media and other independent assessments indicate that the chain is majority funded by the Qatari government. According to some sources, the Qatari authorities contribute some 90% of the station’s budget.
In spite of various sets of internal rules aimed at establishing the network’s editorial objectivity and independence, there is abundant evidence that the editorial line of Al Jazeera is very much influenced by the government. Experts based in Doha say that the chain can’t escape what RSF called the “draconian system of censorship” that was instituted in the emirate.
However, the station is also known for its intrepid reporting, especially its content targeting foreign audiences. Thus, when it comes to international reporting or reporting about the Middle East region for its English station, Al Jazeera is often praised as a “household name.” For example, much of the Al Jazeera’s London station’s valiant reporting (sometimes almost aggressive) has often irked Arab governments.
The same policy is not applied when it comes to coverage for the local audiences in Qatar or criticism of Qatar’s ruling elite, which is totally banned on the network: “Al-Jazeera Arabic can be outspoken on subjects deemed as sensitive in the region. But the Qatari media observe strict self-censorship on domestic coverage and avoid criticizing the state or government. ‘The government, the royal family, and Islam are off limits to reporters,’ says Reporters Without Borders.”
At the same time, the broadcaster is frequently used by the emir of Qatar as a tool to promote the country’s foreign policy objectives.
On the other hand, there are some examples of critical reporting about the Qatari authorities on Al Jazeera, albeit this only happens on the non-Arabic media outlets of the group.
There is no domestic statute that would establish the independence of Al Jazeera. The station has a set of editorial norms and standards that are supposed to guide the journalists working with the station. While these norms are useful guiding principles for the outlet’s journalists and are sometimes enforced, they do not represent a guarantee of the station’s editorial independence. A 2021 academic paper showed that the Al Jazeera Arabic (AJA) has a set of unwritten and implicit guidelines that shape its editorial coverage (by the Qatari government). Al Jazeera English (AJE) has developed its own set of internal editorial guidelines aimed at ensuring its independence.
Al Jazeera has a Quality Assurance Department whose work was started in 2004. The department’s tasks are to define standards, monitor output and ensure that Al Jazeera complies with editorial policies and the high international journalistic standards. Promoted to the rank of Directorate in 2012, the unit investigates matters of accuracy, fairness, balance and taste in Al Jazeera’s coverage, making recommendations to the station’s management to improve the station’s content. However, that doesn’t fully qualify as a publicly accountable, independent oversight mechanism.