Note: both Al-Jazeera and Al-Jazira are accurate transliterations of the network's Arabic name. While Al-Jazeera is more old fashioned, this node has been titled Al-Jazeera which seems to be the more common western usage. The name Al-Jazeera means "The peninsula", which refers to the Arabian Peninsula. Thanks to liveforever for the heads-up.

Al-Jazeera or Al-Jazira is the state-funded satellite network of Qatar, a small Middle Eastern nation. Al-Jazeera is the preeminent television network in the Middle East and the larger Islamic world, somewhat comparable to CNN.

Al-Jazeera focuses not on re-broadcasting western programming, but on producing its own programming typically focusing on issues important to the Arab and Islamic world. Al-Jazeera's programming is often controversial, and has prompted over 400 complaints to the government of Qatar from various Arab states over the last half decade.

The origins of Al-Jazeera date back to 1995 when the BBC, which had built a strong tradition of Arabic-language news coverage considered objective by Muslims through its World Service radio network, signed a deal with the Saudi-owned company Orbit Communications to provide Arabic newscasts for Orbit's main Middle East channel. However, the BBC's insistence on editorial independence clashed with the Saudi government's unwillingness to permit reporting on controversial issues, such as executions and the activities of prominent Saudi dissidents. In April 1996, when the BBC broadcast a story on human rights in the Kingdom which showed footage of the beheading of a criminal, Orbit pulled out of the deal.

A few months later, the new Emir of Qatar, Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, took advantage of this fortuitous development by establishing Al-Jazeera and hiring most of the BBC Arabic Service's editors, reporters and technicians to form the nucleus of its staff. The Emir, who had launched a sensational campaign to end censorship in Qatar (going so far as to abolish its information ministry) since ousting his father in 1995, contributed 140 million USD to finance Al-Jazeera's operations for the first five years, after which the company would supposedly sustain itself through advertising revenues.

Al-Jazeera has not made that transition - in fact, the Qatari government has been spending around 100 million USD each year to sustain the station, which has been unable to attract enough advertisers. Although the market for satellite television advertising in Arab world is estimated to exceed 500 million USD annually, most of it is spent by multinational corporations which are reluctant to risk alienating governments in the region.