The Economist on Al Jazeera

Posted: June 16, 2010 by Scott Kistler in Politics, The World-Wide World
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A short article from The Economist (May 27), notes that while Western media are decreasing their international presence, the English and Arabic Al Jazeera channels combined “have at least 60 bureaus, with 12 in Africa alone, a number unthinkable for their shrinking Western rivals.”  Another 10 are supposed to be on their way by the end of 2011.  Bolstered by a rumored annual contribution of $400 million from the emir of Qatar, Al Jazeera is expected by The Economist to keep expanding its already impressive influence.  The article says that “Al Jazeera claims to beam its main Arabic-language channel into around half of all Arab homes. Its English-language channel is said to reach 200m elsewhere, making waves in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Quite a lot of Europeans watch it, too.”

The article contrasts the English and Arabic channels of Al Jazeera:

The two language services are editorially separate. The English one’s choice of topics reflects the third-world interests of its viewers, concentrating more than its Western counterparts do on global poverty and the anger often felt towards America and the West. But it offers a wide range of opinion and covers Western politics well too. Both language services have bureaus in Jerusalem, Gaza and Ramallah (the Palestinian Authority’s seat), regularly giving Israelis a voice.

The Arabic service is a lot more controversial. Pro-Western Arab governments, particularly those of Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which denies Al Jazeera a bureau, repeatedly accuse it of bias. In particular they say it favours the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s chief opposition, and Hamas, the Islamist movement that runs Gaza and refuses to recognise Israel. The Arabic service’s head, Waddah Khanfur, and his news editor, Ahmed Sheikh, are both West Bank Palestinians said to enjoy cosy relations with Hamas. Many of the station’s Egyptian staff are deemed sympathetic to the Brotherhood, of which Hamas is a branch….

On Iraq, not a single speaker, apart from a forlorn parliamentarian from the Iraqi prime minister’s party who made a desultory comment by video-conference, expressed a flicker of sympathy for the new Shia-led order, which several voices denounced as wholly illegitimate. The Gazan who edits al-Quds al-Arabi, a populist London-based newspaper that resonates in the Arab world, drew the loudest applause with a ringing call to back the continuing Iraqi “resistance”, even though the fight is now almost entirely between Arabs. No wonder Al Jazeera makes pro-Western Arab leaders, excoriated as puppets, feel queasy—Qatar’s, of course, excepted.

The article describes the Arabic channel’s practice of referring to a suicide bomber as “shaheed” (martyr).  Also, a 200-person forum on the Palestinian issue featured no Arabic voices for a two-state solution to the problem, and “Hamas’s official one-state preference for the Jewish state’s abolition easily prevailed.”  The network defends itself by saying that the Palestinian issue, so important to Arabs, is bound to be discussed in passionate terms and that Islamism needs to have its case presented, too.

Hat tip: Michael Totten

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