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The Al-Jazeera Effect

The Al-Jazeera Effect

16+ age recommendation.
This is the second article in a series on media outlets' effects on international relations. The first is 'The CNN Effect'.


Since the 1980s, there has been an explosive growth in both the amount and importance of satellite all-news broadcasting networks. The first of these channels to experience real success was the Cable News Network (CNN). The success of CNN sparked several competitors, most notably the Al-Jazeera (AJ) network. AJ has developed to become so important that another phenomenon, somewhat based on the CNN effect, has been named after it, describing the importance of ‘new’ forms of media in “every aspect of global affairs.” This article will outline the most important implications of the Al-Jazeera effect, most importantly its ability to open up critical debates in otherwise docile societies. AJ itself and the competitors it has created for itself are spurring reforms in the Middle East and are promoting variety of news and opinions. AJ was formed in 1996, in large parts as a response to the Western coverage of the Gulf War and the lack of Middle Easter equivalents to CNN.

It used to be that the various states of the Middle East had monopoly over the news of their states and that ‘television journalism’ was not a real thing as no one could ask the important questions. However, the creation and development of AJ has largely changed this. Overall, there are two implications of the AJ effect: first, the creation of an Arabic news channel that deals with the Arabic world has results in a common Middle Eastern nation, also known as an Ummah.  Secondly, AJ allows anyone to have a voice through their channel, which has created a place for people to debate, and where poeple can be educated about what is happening in their part of their world. .

The Middle East has been under constant criticism from the West for several hundreds of years, but AJ’s criticism of the region is very different as this was the first place where the criticisms and questions of the every-day Arab were asked and often answered by someone who was not an outsider.  This unified the citizens of the Middle East. As the Washington Post noted: “Inadvertently or not, [Al-Jazeera] offer a locus for the Arab street to vent, formulate and discuss public affairs. They bring Arabs closer together, breaking taboos….All in all, Arab satellite stations have pushed ajar the door of democracy and flanked monopoly on the media.” (Wright, 2008). This is incredibly important as it gives Arabs a common identity that they were not previously at a liberty to form, and in this aspect, the implication of AJ was enormous.

The second aspect of the AJ effect very much builds on the first one. More so than any other channel, AJ offers an outlet for all opinions, including extremely controversial ones, such as Osama Bin Laden’s. This has allowed AJ, and similar Arab stations that have sprung up in the last decade, to educate the Middle Eastern people on different opinions and the democratic process. It could be claimed that the questioning nature of AJ was part of the inspiration for the Arab Spring that would follow 15 years after its inception, as it led Arabs to question the very building stones of Middle Eastern governments. As one Yemeni editors said: “journalism is a weapon of mass destruction for oppressive governments."

Overall, AJ has unified and liberated the Arab region to an unprecedented extent, and, though there are limits to what it can broadcast, its critical reporting has set agendas, functioned as a civic forum and a mobilizing agent, and to some extent it has also managed to function as a watchdog of the governments of the Middle East.


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