ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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A Hothouse Plant

Despite constraints, the Al Jazeera network is challenging dominant narratives.

One of the 13 demands that the Saudi Arabia-led group of countries sent to Qatar on 23 June 2017 after imposing economic and diplomatic sanctions against it is that the news network Al Jazeera be shut down. This is hardly surprising. The television network that pointedly describes itself as the “first independent news channel in the Arab world” has been a thorn in the side of many of the monarchies and dictatorships in the region ever since it was launched in 1996. Although it operates from Qatar, where the media has been categorised as “Not Free” in 2016 by the US-based Freedom House, it is clearly more free than any other equivalent news network operating in the region. Ironically, Al Jazeera Arabic (AJA) was born thanks to Saudi Arabia’s unplanned munificence when the latter closed the BBC’s Arabic service based there, thereby freeing all 150 of its well-trained journalists to switch overnight to the new channel.

While the world watches Al Jazeera English (AJE), which has built up an enviable reputation for professionalism and credibility, and has brought in a refreshing and more rooted perspective to developments in the Arab world and North Africa as compared to the Western-centric reporting of established international channels, it is the Arabic channel that gives the autocratic rulers of much of the Arab world sleepless nights. AJA has allowed voices that would otherwise never be heard in countries that have a highly controlled media. It was principally responsible for the live and extensive coverage of the so-called “Arab Spring” in Tunisia and Egypt. And it was the only channel in the world that got an interview with Osama bin Laden after 9/11. While such coverage has boosted its viewership, it has also made Qatar’s neighbours suspicious, given that the Qatari royal family has promoted and partly owns Al Jazeera. The media organisation has been criticised for being soft on the Muslim Brotherhood and other radical groups and of actively promoting the protestors in Tahrir Square in Cairo, accusations that it vigorously denies. It argues that giving voice to even radical Islamicist groups is its professional duty, something the Saudi-led group is clearly unwilling to accept as this is seen as deliberate provocation.

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Updated On : 27th Aug, 2017
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