By Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi
Over the past two months, there has been much praise for Al-Jazeera’s English-language channel– aimed at an international audience– and its coverage of the popular unrest in Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria, Bahrain and Libya. Such praise is somewhat justified– indeed, the English version is not unlike the BBC– and it is to be hoped that a deal will be struck with Comcast, which is holding talks with Al-Jazeera to bring the network to millions of American TV viewers.
On the other hand Al-Jazeera’s Arabic-language channel, intended for viewers in the Arab world, is rightly the subject of controversy concerning its agenda: namely its aim to serve the interests of Qatar’s foreign policy that seeks to play both sides in the present Middle Eastern Cold War. Hence, for example, the massive attention devoted to the uprising in Egypt, whose then-ruler Hosni Mubarak had stayed away from an Arab League Summit in Doha two years ago in what was widely viewed as a snub of the Qatari emir. In contrast, consider the limited and muted coverage (as noted by Hafez Al-Mirazi, a former Al-Jazeera TV host) of the largely Shi’a uprising in Bahrain and attempts to characterise pro-democracy forces there as being driven by sectarian ideology. This is partly due to the channel’s anti-Shi’a bias that has meant hosting vitriolic criticism of Shi’a clerics like Ayatollah Sistani with no similar attacks allowed on the likes of Yusuf Al-Qaradawi. Nor will Al-Jazeera tell you of plans for a ‘Day of Rage’ in Qatar on 16th March with the goal of ousting the emir, who leads a regime that was ranked as authoritarian as Mubarak’s in Freedom House’s preliminary findings for 2011. In any case Bahrain is a little too close to home for Qatar, which, whilst happy to promote sympathy for Iranian proxies like Hamas, is nonetheless wary of Iranian power and, besides hosting CENTCOM, has provided military bases for US forces in the region. Incidentally, as regards Bahrain Al-Jazeera’s Saudi rival Al-Arabiya is no better, as Al-Mirazi points out.
If there is going to be worthwhile discussion of this issue, however, it simply will not do to write an article whose entire premise is flawed because of the source it links to. We have a prime example of this in a certain op-ed at Arutz Sheva (associated with a radio station run by rightwing Israeli settlers on the West Bank) entitled ‘The Al-Jazeera Mirror’, written by one Robert Jancu, described as a ‘frequently published writer on Israel and Zionism’.
Jancu bases his criticisms of Al-Jazeera on linking to and discussing the contents of the site ‘Aljazeera Magazine’. Unfortunately for Jancu, Aljazeera Magazine’s ‘About Us’ section clearly states:
Important note: Aljazeera Publishing and Aljazeera.com are not associated with any of the below organisations:
1. Al Jazeera Newspaper, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia whose website is al-jazirah.com
2. Al Jazeera Satellite Channel whose website is aljazeera.net.
3. Al Jazeera Information Centre who website is aljazeerah.info
Aljazeera Publishing disassociates itself from the views, opinions and broadcasts of these titles.’
To make such a basic research error makes one wonder whether Jancu actually knew that everything he attributed to Al-Jazeera in his article had nothing to do with the Qatari news channel. More generally, the moral is that you should always look carefully at what you link to in order to verify that the source illustrates the point you wish to make.
In this context, Jancu’s sloppiness only helps to damage the case put forward by those who wish to examine critically Al-Jazeera’s methods and aims.
Update: Jancu has now altered his article, noting that ‘Al-jazeera.com claims that’ it is independent from the Qatari news network’s site aljazeera.net. For those who think the author never made the conflation in the first place, however, he has still left in the following:
It is almost as if al-Jazeera, which is the Arab “newspaper and network of record,” specializes in tiny Israel (one article focused on the destruction of twelve tents in the West Bank) and covers the vast Muslim world as an afterthought. Moreover, this is the English-language version of al-Jazeera online. One reasonably assumes that the Arabic-language version is even more distorted.
In any case, I have seen no evidence that aljazeera.com has been cited as a credible news source by any mainstream Western journalist.