After the 11 September attacks on the United States and US air raids on Afghanistan, the world discovered Qatar through its satellite television channel Al Jazira. The channel was one of the rare media, owing to its permanent office in Kabul established in 1998, still to be present in the Afghan capital before the fall of the Taliban. Known for the quality of its programmes, its professionalism and its independence, "the CNN of the Arab world" is the channel with the largest audiences in the Arab world. In recent years it has been criticised by many Arab countries (e.g. Morocco, Mauritania, Egypt, Tunisia, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia) which are uncomfortable about the tribune it affords for opponents of all kinds. In October it was the United States’ turn to criticise the channel. On 10 October state secretary Colin Powell said that Al Jazira "gives a lot of time and attention to certain vitriolic and irresponsible declarations" and denounced the "inflammatory rhetoric" of the Qatari channel. The day after the US air strikes the channel had broadcast statements by Osama bin Laden. A few days before that, Colin Powell had asked Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, Emir of Qatar and the channel’s main shareholder, to use his influence to force the channel to change its coverage of events. The managing director of the channel, Mohammed Jassem Al-Ali, replied that the editorial staff would continue "in the same professional direction that Al Jazira had set out on" since its foundation in 1996 "as a medium offering a margin of freedom in the Arab world".
The press in Qatar enjoys relative freedom compared to other Arab countries, even if certain topics concerning the emirate are still taboo.
A journalist attacked
On 6 June 2001 three men armed with sharp instruments burst into the head office of the newspaper Al-Watan and assaulted the editor-in-chief, Ahmed Ali. The journalist was taken to hospital but his condition was not serious. Ahmed Ali is known for his caustic articles about the government. A few weeks earlier he had criticised the energy minister’s plan to make users pay for water and electricity which were normally supplied free of charge. In the end an out-of-court settlement was reached with his assailants, relatives of the energy and industry minister Abdullah bin Hamad Al Attiyah. Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabr Al-Thani, foreign affairs minister, took the initiative in this settlement. It was the first attack of this kind against a journalist since Qatar’s independence in 1971.
Pressure and obstruction
In mid-March 2001 Louai Mohammad Abdallah, a US citizen of Arabic origin who wrote articles on an Internet site, was sentenced to two years in jail followed by banishment. We was accused of creating a page on a web site on which he "insulted symbols of Qatar". Louai Mohammad Abdallah is still free. His lawyer has appealed.