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While Al Jazeera has a large audience in the Middle East, the organization and the original Arabic channel in particular have taken criticism and been involved in several controversies.
An article in the American Journalism Review noted that critics of Al-Jazeera have "assailed what they see as anti-Semitic, anti-American bias in the channel's news content." An example cited from earlier years was a report in Al-Jazeera that Jews had been informed in advance not to go to work on the day of the September 11 attacks, which was criticized by an October 2001 editorial in the New York Times. An often-repeated example involves an on-air birthday party organized by Al Jazeera's Beirut bureau chief for a Lebanese militant convicted of killing four Israelis, including a four-year-old girl. Al Jazeera greeted Samir Kuntar, released in a July 2008 prisoner swap, as a hero. A more recent example given by the article is the weekly show "Sharia and Life" by Yusuf Qaradawi, an Egyptian cleric who, according to a February 2011 article in The Atlantic, "argues clearly and consistently that hatred of Israel and Jews is Islamically sanctioned."
Right-wing Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly has criticized al-Jazeera for being "anti-Semitic" and "anti-American". In response, Dave Marash, a veteran correspondent for ABC's Nightline who resigned from his position as Washington anchor for Al Jazeera English in 2008 due to a perception of anti-American bias, appeared on the O'Reilly Factor and asserted, "They certainly aren't anti-Semitic, but they are anti-Netanyahu and anti-Lieberman and anti-Israeli right...."
Al Jazeera has been criticized for being state media owned by the government of Qatar. Al Jazeera has been accused of being pro-Wahabi as well as being pro-political Islam (Including Muslim Brotherhood), and having a strong anti-Iranian and anti-Shia bias. Compared to all the other networks, Al Jazeera seldom broadcast extremist Salafi's attacks on the cultural heritage in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, which can be attributed to the Salafi beliefs of its owners and executives. The network also downplays atrocities committed by the extremist groups, and instead highlights actions taken by the Western governments. It also never broadcasts anything even remotely critical of Qatar's ruling family, including human right violations or the abuse of immigrant workers in Qatar. Al Jazeera can be recognized as an apparatus of the Qatari elites to exert influence over the region via propagation of political Islam combined with Salafism, hence being accused of supporting terrorism. In 2010, United States Department of State internal communications, released by WikiLeaks as part of the 2010 diplomatic cables leak, claim that the Qatar government manipulates Al Jazeera coverage to suit political interests.
Al Jazeera's Shia Beirut correspondent Ali Hashem resigned from Al Jazeera after leaked e-mails shows his discontent over the outlet's "unprofessional" and biased coverage of the Syrian civil war in light of the Bahraini uprising, which was not given the prominence of the Syrian conflict on the network, one side of the conflict which was partly funded by the state of Qatar, who also fund Al Jazeera.
Al Jazeera's long-time Berlin correspondent Aktham Suliman left in late 2012 "It wasn't just because the broadcaster seemed less interested in reports from Europe. Rather, Suliman had the feeling that he was no longer being allowed to work as an independent journalist. "Before the beginning of the Arab Spring, we were a voice for change," he says, "a platform for critics and political activists throughout the region. Now, Al-Jazeera has become a propaganda broadcaster." "Al-Jazeera takes a clear position in every country from which it reports -- not based on journalistic priorities, but rather on the interests of the Foreign Ministry of Qatar," he says. "In order to maintain my integrity as a reporter, I had to quit.""  He writes, "The news channel Al Jazeera was committed to the truth. Now it is bent. It's about politics, not journalism. For the reporter that means: time to go. [...] The decline 2004-2011 was insidious, subliminal and very slow, but with a disastrous end."
Walid Phares indicated that the Qatar-owned Al Jazeera television network became the “primary ideological and communication network” for the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists during the Arab Spring in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya , Yemen, and Syria in 2011. He noted that after democratic forces had initiated the rebellions, Al Jazeera played a “tremendous role” in supporting the Islamic forces that then seized the revolutions.
Al Jazeera has suffered the exodus of numerous prominent staff members. Reporters and anchors, particularly in cities like London, Paris, Moscow, Beirut and Cairo have left Al-Jazeera, despite what are seen as luxurious working conditions in centrally located offices. And despite the fact that the network is investing an estimated $500 million (€375 million) in the US, so as to reach even more viewers on the world's largest television market—one in which its biggest competitor, CNN, is at home. Among the largest walk-offs, was that of 22 members of Al Jazeera's Egyptian bureau. The group announced their resignation on July 8, 2013, citing bias coverage of the ongoing Egyptian power redistribution in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood.
During the 2010 FIFA World Cup opening game, Al Jazeera Sports' transmission in the Arab world went down without explanation in the first half, while the second half transmission was patchy. Al Jazeera and FIFA said they were working to figure out the cause of the disruption to Al Jazeera's official broadcasting rights. The British newspaper The Guardian reported that evidence points toward jamming by the Jordanian government.
The Bahraini Information Minister, Nabeel Yacoob Al Hamer, banned Al Jazeera correspondents from reporting from inside the country on 10 May 2002, saying that the station was biased towards Israel and against Bahrain. After improvements in relations between Bahrain and Qatar in 2004, Al Jazeera correspondents returned to Bahrain. In 2010, the Information Ministry again banned Al Jazeera correspondents from reporting inside the country. The ministry accused the network of "flouting [Bahrain's] laws regulating the press and publishing" after Al Jazeera aired a report on poverty in Bahrain.
During his visit to Egypt in November 2011, Nabeel Rajab, the president of Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, criticized Al Jazeera's coverage of the Bahraini uprising, saying that it represents an Arabic double standard. Rajab commented, "Al Jazeera's intentional ignoring for coverage of Bahrain protests makes me strongly believe that we need channels that are sponsored by people rather than by regimes".
Al Jazeera has been criticized by an Egyptian newspaper for its allegedly biased coverage of news that are related to Egypt and its government, and they argue that these "continuous attacks against Egypt is to destroy Egypt’s image in the region" as many of them suggest. In addition, Al Jazeera has filed a lawsuit against the Egyptian al-Ahram newspaper for an article posted on 9 June 2010 named "Jazeerat al-Taharoush" ("Al Jazeera: An Island of Harassment"), which Al Jazeera finds to be "wholly deceptive and journalistically unprofessional" and claims that the article's aim is to "damage the reputation of the Al Jazeera Network". The Egyptian regime would later collapse as a result of the Arab Spring.
22 members of staff of Al Jazeera's Egyptian bureau announced their resignation on July 8, 2013, citing "biased" coverage of the ongoing Egyptian power redistribution in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood.
In September 2013, a court in Cairo ordered al-Jazeera to stop broadcasting in Egypt due to its perceived pro-Brotherhood bias and "inciting violence that led to the deaths of Egyptians."
During the Iraq war, Al Jazeera faced reporting and movement restrictions, as did other news-gathering organizations. In addition, one of its reporters, Tayseer Allouni, was expelled from the country, while another one, Diyar Al-Omari, was stripped of his journalistic permits by the US. Reacting to this, Al Jazeera announced on 2 April 2003, that it would "temporarily freeze all coverage" of Iraq in protest of what Al Jazeera described as unreasonable interference from Iraqi officials.
During 2004, Al Jazeera broadcast several video tapes of various victims of kidnappings in Iraq, which had been sent to the network. The videos had been filmed by the kidnappers holding the hostages. The hostages were shown, often blindfolded, pleading for their release. They often appeared to be forced to read out prepared statements of their kidnappers. Al Jazeera has assisted authorities from the home countries of the victims in an attempt to secure the release of kidnapping victims. This included broadcasting pleas from family members and government officials. Contrary to some allegations, including the oft-reported comments of Donald Rumsfeld on 4 June 2005, Al Jazeera has never shown beheadings. (Beheadings have appeared on numerous non-Al Jazeera websites and have sometimes been misattributed to Al Jazeera.)
On 7 August 2004, the Iraqi Allawi government shut down the Iraq office of Al Jazeera, claiming that it was responsible for presenting a negative image of Iraq, and charging the network with fueling anti-Coalition hostilities. Al Jazeera spokesman Jihad Ballout said: "It's regrettable and we believe it's not justifiable. This latest decision runs contrary to all the promises made by Iraqi authorities concerning freedom of expression and freedom of the press," and Al Jazeera vowed to continue its reporting from inside Iraq. News photographs showed United States and Iraqi military personnel working together to close the office. Initially closed by a one-month ban, the shutdown was extended indefinitely in September 2004, and the offices were sealed, drawing condemnation from international journalists.
In April 2013, Iraq baned al-Jazeera (and nine other TV channels) over 'sectarian bias'. The Iraqi Communication and Media Commission said in a statement that the satellite channels had "exaggerated things, given misinformation and called for breaking the law and attacking Iraqi security forces". The watchdog complained of a "sectarian tone" in the TV coverage and said "undisciplined media messages exceeded all reasonable limits" and threatened to "jeopardise the democratic process".
A widely reported criticism is the unfounded allegation that Al Jazeera showed videos of masked terrorists beheading western hostages in Iraq. When this was reported in other media, Al Jazeera pressed for retractions to be made. This allegation was again repeated on Fox News Channel on the launch day of Al Jazeera's English service, 15 November 2006. Later The Guardian apologized for incorrect information that Al Jazeera "had shown videos of masked terrorists beheading western hostages".
On 19 July 2008, Al Jazeera TV broadcast a program from Lebanon that covered the "welcome-home" festivities for Samir Kuntar, a Lebanese terrorist who had been imprisoned in Israel for killing several people in a Palestine Liberation Front raid from Lebanon into Israel. In the program, the head of Al Jazeera's Beirut office, Ghassan bin Jiddo, praised Kuntar as a "pan-Arab hero" and organized a birthday party for him. In response, Israel's Government Press Office (GPO) announced a boycott of the channel, which was to include a general refusal by Israeli officials to be interviewed by the station, and a ban on its correspondents from entering government offices in Jerusalem. A few days later an official letter was issued by Al Jazeera's director general, Wadah Khanfar, in which he admitted that the program violated the station's Code of Ethics and that he had ordered the channel's programming director to take steps to ensure that such an incident does not recur.
The television network was also criticized for allegedly biased coverage of events in the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, including the Bat Mitzvah massacre in 2002, where the network failed to note that the massacre victims were attending a bat mitzvah celebration for a 12-year-old girl, and neglected to mention that the gunman crashed the event at a crowded banquet hall. When the Palestinian militant Raed Karmi was killed by the Israeli army, Al Jazeera was criticized for failing to mention Israeli accusations about how many people he had killed, which would have provided a context for the story.
In 2008, Israel accused al-Jazeera of bias. Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Majalli Wahabi accused the Qatari-owned station of focusing exclusively on Palestinian suffering, and ignoring Israeli suffering, referring to the Israeli residents of Western Negev, who have been the target of rocket attacks by Gaza in recent years. "We have seen that Al-Jazeera has become part of Hamas . . . taking sides and cooperating with people who are enemies of the state of Israel," said Wahabi, a Druze Arab. "The moment a station like Al-Jazeera gives unreliable reports, represents only one side, and doesn't present the positions of the other side, why should we cooperate?", adding: "These reports are untrustworthy and they hurt us, and they arouse people to terrorist activities." Israeli officials backed their claim by saying al-Jazeera had covered the Gaza incursion but not the Palestinian rocket attacks against the Israeli city of Ashkelon. Wahabi said that the Israeli Foreign Ministry would send letters of complaint to the government of Qatar and Al Jazeera. Officials of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party also accuse al-Jazeera of being biased in favour of Hamas, with which it is at political loggerheads, and prominent Fatah official and former Gaza strongman Mohammed Dahlan has organized a lawsuit against the broadcaster. Al-Jazeera eventually agreed to discuss coverage of Mideast conflict, and the issue was apparently settled.
The Al Jazeera office in Kuwait City was closed by government officials after airing a story on police crackdowns. The story had video of police beating activists and included interviews with members of the Kuwaiti opposition. Four MP's were injured in the crackdown. Kuwait's Minister of Information described Al Jazeera's coverage as "intervention in a Kuwaiti domestic issue".
According to the media of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Al-Jazeera worked on behalf Western countries and those of the Gulf Cooperation Council in promoting their policies against Libya. It explained that Al-Jazeera worked to "disseminate falsehoods and lies to incite international public opinion."
The Qatari Emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, opposed Libya's government and supported Libya's armed revolt in 2011, providing the rebels with significant military support and funding. Qatar's emir ordered Al-Jazeera to emphasize Libya's conflict in the channel's coverage, which contributed to the spread of the insurgency and influenced the Arab world's views on Libya. Within a week of the start of the rebellion in Libya against the Libyan Government, Al-Jazeera started using the rebels' tricolor flag to mark its coverage.
Qatar's emir appeared on Al-Jazeera and urged that military intervention in Libya was necessary. Al-Jazeera's journalists were criticized for not challenging the emir over his position.
Although Al-Jazeera reported on 22 February 2011 that Libya's government carried out airstrikes on Benghazi and Tripoli, observers concluded that the airstrikes did not take place.
In January 2009 Al Jazeera aired a documentary on toxic waste dumped in Somalia. A Somali journalist who studied the contents of the two-part Al Jazeera documentary, The Toxic Truth, has concluded that Al Jazeera failed to rigorously research the story because one of the letters used to substantiate arms smuggling was issued on 15 April 1992, from the Ministry of Defence of People's Democratic Republic of Yemen, almost two years after South Yemen and North Yemen united to form the Republic of Yemen in May 1990. Another criticism of the documentary was that Al Jazeera did not allow Ali Mahdi Muhammad, former interim president of Somalia, to exercise his right of reply for being accused of authorising Italy based companies to build dumping grounds in Somalia.
Reporter Tayseer Allouni was arrested in Spain on 5 September 2003, on a charge of having provided support for members of al-Qaeda. Judge Baltasar Garzón, who had issued the arrest warrant, ordered Allouni held without bail. Al Jazeera wrote to then Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar and protested: "On several occasions Western journalists met secretly with secret organizations and they were not subjected to any legal action because they were doing their job, so why is Allouni being excluded?" Allouni was released on bail several weeks later over health concerns, but prohibited from leaving the country.
On 19 September, a Spanish court issued an arrest warrant for Allouni before the expected verdict. Allouni had asked the court for permission to visit his family in Syria to attend the funeral of his mother but authorities denied his request and instead ordered him back to jail.
Although he pleaded not guilty of all the charges against him, Allouni was sentenced on 26 September 2005 to seven years in prison for being a financial courier for al-Qaeda. Allouni insisted he merely interviewed bin Laden after the 11 September attack on the United States. Al Jazeera has continuously supported Allouni and maintain that he is innocent.
Many international and private organizations (Reporters Without Borders among them) condemned the arrest and called on the Spanish court to free Taysir Allouni. Websites such as Alony Solidarity were created to support Allouni.
Al-Jazeera has been criticized over unfair coverage of the Syrian civil war. The channel's reporting has been described as largely supportive of the rebels, while demonizing the Syrian government.
The Lebanese newspaper As-Safir cited outtakes of interviews showing that the channel's staff coached Syrian eyewitnesses and fabricated reports of oppression by Syria's government. It refers to leaked internal e-mails suggest that Al-Jazeera has become subordinated to the Qatari emir's assertive foreign policy, which supports Syria's rebels and advocates military intervention in the country.
In March 2012, Al-Jazeera correspondents Ali Hashim and two others resigned from their jobs because of objections over the reporting on the conflict. They reported that Al-Jazeera paid $50,000 for smuggling phones and satellite communication tools to Syria's rebels. Hashim concluded, “The channel was taking a certain stance. It was meddling with each and every detail of reports on the Syrian revolution."
Ahmad Ibrahim, who is in charge of the Al-Jazeera's coverage on Syria, is the brother of a leading member of the rebels' "Syrian National Council". Al-Jazeera reportedly put pressure on its journalists to use the term "martyr" for slain Syrian rebels, but not pro-government forces.
UK officials, like their US counterparts, strongly protested against Al Jazeera's coverage of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Al Jazeera stated that the coalition leaders were taking exception because its reporting made it more difficult for both countries to manage the way the war was being reported.
Since 9/11 U.S. officials have claimed an anti-American bias to Al Jazeera's news coverage. The station first gained widespread attention in the West following the September 11, 2001 attacks, when it broadcast videos in which Osama bin Laden and Sulaiman Abu Ghaith defended and justified the attacks. This led to significant controversy and accusations by the United States government that Al Jazeera was engaging in propaganda on behalf of terrorists. Al Jazeera countered that it was merely making information available without comment, and several western television channels later followed suit in broadcasting portions of the tapes. At a press conference on 3 October 2001, Colin Powell tried to persuade the emir of Qatar to shut down Al Jazeera.
On 12 October 2008, Al Jazeera broadcast interviews with people attending a Sarah Palin 2008 United States presidential election rally in St. Clairsville, Ohio, with interviewees making comments about Barack Obama such as "he regards white people as trash" and "I'm afraid if he wins, the blacks will take over". The report received over 2 million views on YouTube and elicited comment by Colin Powell: "Those kind of images going out on Al Jazeera are killing us." Following this the Washington Post ran an op-ed, claiming the news channel was deliberately encouraging "anti-American sentiment overseas", which was criticized by Al Jazeera as "a gratuitous and uninformed shot at Al Jazeera's motives", as the report was just one of "hundreds of hours of diverse coverage".
Some critics have alleged that al-Jazeera has censored criticism of the United States under U.S. pressure. Al Jazeera English's former director, Wadah Khanfar resigned in September 2011 following Wikileaks documents that asserted that he had close ties to the U.S. and agreed to remove content if the United States objected.
Some of Al Jazeera's competitors have claimed that Al Jazeera is pro-American. RT, a Russian network sometimes criticized for an alleged Anti-Western bias, asserted that the Wikileaks documents concerning Wadah Khanfar (see above) proves that Al Jazeera is pro-American. Voice of Russia made the same claim. Another rival, Iranian Press TV, has also published articles critical of Al Jazeera, claiming that Al Jazeera has Pro-American bias and serving Israeli interests. Their criticism of Al Jazeera came along with criticism of Qatar's government, and reports of rallies against the government.
Al Jazeera cameraman Sami Al Hajj, a Sudanese national, was detained while in transit to Afghanistan in December 2001, and up until May 2008 was held, without charge, as an enemy combatant in Camp Delta at Guantánamo Bay. The reasons for his detention remain unknown, although the U.S.' official statement on all detainees is that they are security threats. Reporters Without Borders have repeatedly expressed concern over Al Hajj's detention, mentioned Al Hajj in their Annual Worldwide Press Freedom Index, and launched a petition for his release.
On 23 November 2005, Sami Al Hajj's lawyer Clive Stafford-Smith reported that, during (125 of 130) interviews, U.S. officials had questioned al-Hajj as to whether Al Jazeera was a front for al-Qaeda. Al-Hajj has since expressed plans to launch legal action against former U.S. President George W. Bush for his treatment while in Guantanamo. According to Stafford-Smith, these accusations include having been beaten and sexually assaulted during his incarceration.
Sami Al Hajj was released on May 1, 2008 from Guantanamo Bay and flown to Sudan. He arrived in the Sudanese capital Khartoum on a US military plane in the early hours of Friday, May 2. Al Jazeera showed footage of him being carried into the hospital on a stretcher, looking frail but smiling and surrounded by well-wishers.