Rebecca Hawkes ©RapidTVNews | 20-09-2011

Wadah Khanfar has resigned as director general of Al Jazeera, the Middle East satellite TV network which has achieved worldwide recognition during his eight years at the helm.
Sheikh Ahmed bin Jassim Al Thani, a member of Qatar’s royal family, will succeed him as the top executive at the Doha-based organisation .

Writing on Twitter, Khanfar said: “Eight years is a long time to be leading a network. Renewal and change is always good.”

A statement from the network said Khanfar had approached Al Jazeera’s chairman with his intention to step down in July, having accomplished the vision he had set for Al Jazeera. The Palestinan-born journalist served as a correspondent in Africa, Afghanistan and Iraq before taking the reins at Al Jazeera – firstly in 2003 as managing director, then as director general.

“Upon my appointment I set a goal to establish Al Jazeera as global media leader. This target has been met and the organisation is in a healthy position,” said Wadah Khanfar.

An Al Jazeera spokesman said: “Wadah Khanfar had made outstanding contributions to Al Jazeera and journalism worldwide. We all recognise his commitment to courageous reporting and want to continue to build upon those achievements.

“Al Jazeera has expanded massively in the last few years and there are ambitious plans still ahead. All of the staff at Al Jazeera will continue to provide high quality journalism to our audiences across the world,” the spokesman added.

Khanfar’s successor Sheikh Ahmed bin Jassim Al Thani brings with him what is described by Al Jazeera as ‘significant international and business experience’.

He held a senior position at Qatargas, and has gained industry experience in France and the USA. Additionally, he holds degrees from among others, Imperial College London and the Carnegie Mellon Tepper School of Business.

Although it has won widespread recognition and international praise for its ongoing coverage of the Arab uprisings, Al Jazeera has also made enemies in the Arab world where censorship of news reporting is rife. While putting the actions of other governments under the microscope, critics say Al Jazeera’s independence of reporting does not extend to within the borders of its own home nation.

In a letter to staff posted on Blake Hounshell’s Foreign Policy blog, Khanfar said: “Authoritarian regimes were terrified at the birth of this new institution and they quickly went on the offensive. From trying to discredit our reportage and staff through disinformation to lodging official protests with the Qatari government.

“When this did not stop our reporting, they started harassing our correspondents, detaining our staff and closing our offices. The only way they could stop us was by jamming our satellite signal. Yet we remained steadfast in our editorial policy - in fact, each attempt to silence us further emboldened us and increased our resolve.”

Backed by the Emir of Qatar, the broadcaster began life as a single Arabic language news channel in 2006. Since then, Al Jazeera Network has expanded to encompass Al Jazeera English, Al Jazeera Sports, Al Jazeera Mubasher and Al Jazeera Documentary.

Al Jazeera now broadcasts 25 channels in Arabic and English, with Turkish, Kiswahili and a Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian channel soon to come.