Al Jazeera stands out on the international stage as one of few popular, non-Western English-language news organizations. Since its founding in 1996, it has catered to Arabic audiences as well as an ever-growing international audience. However, its reporting has not been without controversy, not least because of its close relationship with the Qatari government. This leads The Factual to ask two questions: how reliable is Al Jazeera and how biased is its coverage?

How Factual Is Al Jazeera?

To analyze the output of major English-language news sources, The Factual built a dataset of 785,000 news articles from 32 major news sources between January 1, 2020 and May 18, 2021. Included news source published at least 5,000 articles over the time period, or at least 10 articles per day.

Al Jazeera scored an average Factual Grade of 54.3% across 16,600 articles. This is below the 62.0% average for all articles in the dataset, placing it in the bottom quartile. 

A high grade means an article is informative, relatively objective, and written by a topical expert. A low grade means many of these factors were not present or could not be verified. Articles with lower scores may still have merit, but readers should know to treat them with greater scrutiny. (To learn more, visit our How It Works page.)

In Al Jazeera’s case, many articles lack an identifiable author and therefore receive a low score for author expertise. Many articles also lack hyperlinks to other stories on the same topic, lowering the overall score for source quality.  

Article scores, as rated by The Factual’s algorithm, show how author expertise, writing tone, and provided evidence can vary for each article. For instance, some articles from Al Jazeera scored 90% or more, while others scored below 50%

How Biased Is Al Jazeera?

Assessments from media bias organizations such as AllSides and Media Bias/Fact Check lead The Factual to assign Al Jazeera a “Moderate Left” bias. 

AllSides gives Al Jazeera a “Lean Left” bias due to independent research and 11,329 community ratings. AllSides changed the rating from “Center” due to the omission of right-leaning viewpoints and the tendency to frame such points negatively. Many pieces exhibit bias through “emotionalism, slant, spin, and bias by omission.” AllSides also notes the presence of anti-Western, anti-Israel, and anti-Shia biases.

Media Bias/Fact Check (MBFC) assigns Al Jazeera a “Left-Center” bias due to story selection that at times favors the left. This includes a “Mixed” score for factual reporting due to two failed fact-checks, neither of which received corrections. However, Al Jazeera does receive credit for reporting “news with minimally loaded wording” in their headlines. “Pentagon chief Mattis quits, cites policy differences with Trump” is an example of balanced coverage of former president Trump. They note, however, that Al Jazeera is “routinely biased against Israel and right-wing ideologies,” particularly in its opinion section. 

Who Owns Al Jazeera?

The company’s ownership is perhaps the biggest point of contention. The government of Qatar is the primary funder of Al Jazeera. As a private foundation for public benefit, it is meant to retain its editorial independence. Critics suggest that the Qatari government directly influences the news organization’s output. Proponents note, however, articles that are critical of Qatar. Media organizations such as the National Press Club and Reporters Without Borders also defend Al Jazeera’s journalism on the world stage. 

Al Jazeera was central to a diplomatic standoff beginning in 2017 between Qatar and several neighbors, led by Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The crisis was due to Qatar’s connections to Iran and alleged support for terrorist organizations and the Muslim Brotherhood. Al Jazeera was cited as a mouthpiece for Qatari propaganda and accused of spreading extremist viewpoints. Defendants argue that these countries, which demanded Al Jazeera’s closure, are endangered by its popular independent journalism. The standoff eventually ended with Al Jazeera intact.

How to Mitigate Bias

Al Jazeera provides a useful example of why knowing about the media landscape is essential to interacting with daily news. While the organization is known for high journalistic standards, it has also been embroiled in numerous controversies that warrant closer understanding. Likewise, though the organization has a left-leaning bias, it still produces quality news stories and introduces new perspectives to Western audiences. 

It is important to note that all news articles have some bias because all authors have some frame of reference within which they describe a story. Bias ratings are useful in understanding this framing. However, it can be more useful to know how factual an article is based on the cited evidence and whether the tone of writing is objective or opinionated. This is what The Factual Grade helps measure. Reading several highly rated articles across the political spectrum, including from highly objective sources, helps counter the bias of any news source or story.

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Published by Phillip Meylan

Phillip is a writer, researcher, and editor. He is a contributor to FP Analytics, Foreign Policy's research and advisory division, and an adjuct fellow with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. During Covid-19, he has spent time enjoying the great outdoors, reading, and watching soccer.