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Monday, 8 October, 2001, 13:05 GMT 14:05 UK
Al-Jazeera goes it alone
The Qatari capital, Doha
Critics say the TV is too loyal to its parent state, Qatar
By BBC Monitoring's Suzanne Lidster and Mike Rose

Al-Jazeera (The Peninsula), the popular Arab satellite TV channel, has played a key role in the conflict between the US-led coalition and Afghanistan's ruling Taleban.

It is the only foreign broadcaster permitted in Afghanistan.

On Sunday, the station aired an exclusive filmed statement by Osama Bin Laden in response to air strikes on Afghanistan.

The interview was pre-recorded.

And on Friday, it also showed "recent footage" of Bin Laden in Afghanistan.

Al-Jazeera presenter
The station has also won a following for its coverage of the Palestinian uprising
Since 19 September, when the Taleban evacuated the last foreign journalist from the capital Kabul, only two al-Jazeera correspondents and three Afghan reporters working for the Reuters, AFP and AP news agencies have been allowed to stay.

The station has a reputation for outspoken, independent reporting - in stark contrast to the Taleban's views of the media as a propaganda and religious tool. Yet it clearly has its uses.

For in a country where watching TV or surfing the internet is banned, the Taleban has used al-Jazeera as one way of communicating with the world.

Taleban Foreign Ministry officials have spoken via satellite link to the al-Jazeera headquarters in the Gulf state of Qatar.

Exclusives

The station has scored numerous exclusives. It broadcast the only video pictures of Afghan demonstrators attacking and setting fire to the US embassy on 26 September.

And it grabbed international headlines again a few days later with a report that three US special forces troops and two Afghan US citizens had been captured by Bin Laden's al-Qaeda group near the border with Iran.

Despite a Taleban denial, al-Jazeera stood by its report, saying that a member of al-Qaeda had called its bureau in Pakistan to announce the capture.

Al-Jazeera prides itself on reporting on the Middle East from an Arab perspective while drawing on the professional experience of staff who have worked in the Western media.

It has consistently topped viewer ratings in the Middle East and claims 35m viewers.

Funding

Since its launch in 1996, the channel has relied on funding from the Qatari emirate, advertising and viewer revenue and deals with other broadcasters. It recently signed a deal to broadcast on Sky Digital to the UK and Europe.

The channel's popularity stems from its news coverage and lively talk shows on sensitive political, social and even sexual issues.

The banner of al-Jazeera
The channel says its guiding principles are "diversity of viewpoints and real-time news coverage"

Al-Jazeera's journalistic scoops have turned the spotlight on the channel. There has been talk of privatisation, but if such a move proceeds, the station could face pressure from commercial sponsors in the Gulf, from where there has often been criticism of its output.

However, although state subsidies are expected to end next month, analysts predict that Qatar will continue bankrolling the channel as its controversial reporting could scare off advertisers or shareholders.

Despite its independent stance, al-Jazeera has been labelled by some UK newspapers as a "mouthpiece" of Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaeda, and US officials have expressed concern at what it sees as the anti-Western tone of much of its reporting.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Jeremy Bowen
speaks to Sami Haddad of Al-Jazeera Television, who interviewed Prime Minister Tony Blair for the station
See also:

04 Oct 01 | Americas
US urges curb on Arab TV channel
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