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Al-Jazeera Arabic was founded in 1996 by Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa, and soon enough, its thorough reporting, use of technology and penchant for challenging those in power in the Middle East — all unprecedented for Arabic news channels then — made it one of the most watched news sites in the Arab world.
The emir launched Al-Jazeera English a decade later, as a separate channel with separate editorial content targeting a more global, English-speaking audience.
Arab media scholar Lawrence Pintak sees Al-Jazeera’s move to America as a logical and positive development for the award-winning network.
“There is a huge void of real news on American television,” Pintak said. “On the global stage, they seek out under-covered stories, particularly out of the global South,” he noted, referring to Al-Jazeera. “I think in the United States they will be seeking out under-covered domestic stories that are still important for the American viewer.”
But Andrea Levin, CAMERA’s national president and executive director, is less concerned with the breadth of Al-Jazeera’s coverage than with the balance and professionalism of its reporting on Israel and of Jewish issues.
“We would hope that if they are entering the American space that they… really do care about getting the story straight,” she said.
According to Arab media expert Courtney Radsch, formerly of Freedom House, a human rights monitoring group, the Qatari government’s political interests are widely known to shape its Arabic coverage.
Most recently those interests are on display in the channel’s sympathetic coverage of the Syrian revolution and relative silence on uprisings and brutal repression in Bahrain, a Gulf state monarchy, like Qatar.
At the same time, say Radsch and other analysts, it is widely known that the Qatari government does not interfere in the English-language broadcasts in the same way. Indeed, even the ADL’s Foxman acknowledged in his statement that in its English-language version, “lately Al-Jazeera has toned down its anti-Israel propaganda.”