Marking Al Jazeera’s 20th anniversary, Qatar’s former Emir has praised the broadcaster for its “credibility and commitment to telling the truth.”
The network was established to allow the people of the region to see the world from their perspective, Father Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani said in a ceremony at its Doha headquarters last night.
Al Jazeera first went on air on Nov. 1, 1996 in the form of an Arabic television channel.
The English-language 24-hours news station Al Jazeera English followed in Nov. 2006.
Meanwhile, the youth-oriented digital channel AJ+ launched two years ago. It now has a number of channels in multiple languages.
— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) November 1, 2016
Network-wide, Al Jazeera now has 4,000 staff and 80 bureaus across the world.
Sheikh Hamad gave the keynote speech at yesterday’s event, which was attended by Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani and former first lady Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, as well as the Prime Minister and other dignitaries.
In it, the Father Emir highlighted some of the network’s achievements over the past two decades.
“One of them was that it freed the Arab viewers from relying on the foreign media which was biased against Arab interests and aspirations,” QNA reported him as saying.
“Al Jazeera remains committed to the truth and the aspirations of the Arab people for freedom and dignity,” Sheikh Hamad added.
Meanwhile, establishing AJE “freed the international public opinion from media monopoly, allowing people of the world to listen to different narratives and opinions,” he said.
Journalists and government officials, including Qatar’s foreign minister and the country’s outgoing ambassador to the US, were among those posting messages of congratulations to AJ on Twitter, under the hashtag #AlJazeera20.
— محمد بن عبدالرحمن (@MBA_AlThani_) November 1, 2016
— Mohamed Jaham (@Amb_AlKuwari) November 1, 2016
The media network rose to prominence with its coverage particularly of events in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as from countries in Africa.
Its detailed reporting on the protests in Tunisia in 2010, and the subsequent Arab Spring further contributed to its international reputation.
However, its critical coverage of some regimes in the region created a backlash from some governments which led to the closure of offices and the arrest of journalists, particularly in Egypt.
This led to an international campaign to free them, under the hashtags #JournalismIsNotACrime and #FreeAJStaff.
While he didn’t explicitly mention these incidents, Sheikh Hamad alluded to them, saying that while the broadcaster has its detractors, not all criticism aimed at Al Jazeera was objective.
“In cases it was prejudiced against Al Jazeera and the State of Qatar,” QNA reported him as adding.
Journalists who were deported, imprisoned in the line of duty were also acknowledged as signs that the network was paying a”heavy price for its commitment to the truth.”
In a statement, Al Jazeera’s acting director general Mostefa Souag also described the network as the “voice of the voiceless.”
Amid the celebrations, 2016 has been a bumpy year for the broadcaster.
It finally closed Al Jazeera America in April this year, after less than three years. While the channel won a number of awards, its ratings remained low and it struggled with HR issues.
Also this year, Al Jazeera announced it was sacking 500 employees across its network due to what Souag described as “large-scale changes underway in the media landscape” internationally.
The layoffs had long been anticipated by staffers. Al Jazeera was one of a number of state-funded institutions which has had to cut costs over the last year, as oil prices tumbled.
Happy birthday, Al Jazeera! Thoughts?