Is the end nigh for Al Jazeera?
It is crunch time in the Gulf states diplomatic crisis with Saudi Arabia and its allies giving Qatar until tomorrow to agree with a series of 13 demands in order to end the month-long stand off. The Saudi's along with Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates last month cut diplomatic ties with Qatar and suspended all travel to the country accusing them of supporting Iran and having links to extremist organisations.
One of the demands coming from Saudi Arabia is that Qatar close the long running and popular state news network Al Jazeera. Launched in 1996, the Qatari news outlet has been a constant presence in the Middle East, revolutionising media in the region and playing a massive influence in the political upheavals that have taken place. In the aftermath of 9/11, Al Jazeera aired an exclusive interview with Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden, was the only TV network in Afghanistan in the early days of the US-led occupation, and played an influential role during the Arab Spring in 2010.
With its hard news and investigative approach to journalism, the network has not endeared itself to authoritarian Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia who have called it a disruptive influence and having links with militant groups like the Muslim Brotherhood.
American author Philip Seib who wrote a book “The Al Jazeera Effect” said it would be a sad day if the network closed and said they were pioneers in the global television news landscape. Speaking to 95bFM news, Seib said that over the years Al Jazeera had become the dominant pan-Arab broadcaster in the Arab world and allowed Arab audiences to see news that affected Arabs told by Arabs. This was a change from the past when conservative state-controlled and western networks such as the BBC and CNN dominated coverage in the Middle East.
Seib added that although Al Jazeera had an impact during the explosion of satellite news channels, its influence has been bypassed in recent years by the rise of social media and digital media platforms. He said that despite their influence diminishing they brought a new accountability to governments in the region and were the first regional broadcaster to challenge the governments of states like Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
Caitlin McGee is a Kiwi journalist who has spent the best part of a decade reporting overseas, including five years working for Al Jazeera at its headquarters in Doha.
She said the international news station was unique in its Middle East location, which gave it a focus other outlets aren’t able to have.
“A couple of months after I arrived in Doha, we saw the beginning of the Arab Spring, where we saw totalitarian, authoritarian regimes and military dictatorships like Tunisia, Egypt and the like get rolled in a massive popular uprising so it was a really interesting, fascinating time to be there and it really did shape the region politically and cause huge changes and huge frictions and of course ongoing conflicts like what we see now in Syria.”
Although it remains to be seen whether Qatar will cave to the demands before it, McGee said she thinks an Al Jazeera closure is unlikely to be on the cards.
“The word I’ve got from inside Al Jazeera, is actually in many ways they’re now much more determined to keep it open because Qatar needs Al Jazeera now as its part of its image of being a more modern, Western-friendly corner of the gulf. So I really don’t see it shutting down and in some ways this might be the best thing that’s ever happened to it.”
Listen to the full interview here.
Mack Smith and Sam Smith, 95bFM News