How do you solve a problem like Al Jazeera?

Najah Al-Otaibi

Published: Updated:

The idea of a TV channel being forced to close by the collective weight of Saudi Arabia and other GCC countries seems abhorrent to any liberal supporter of a free media at first sight. But is there any merit in the accusations and demands of the GCC.

Al Jazeera – the first apparently non-obsequious Arab news channel – has much to be praised on the surface. Most observers acknowledge the station in its Arabic and English versions is a tool of Qatar to launch itself as a powerful international player. But there a more sinister, less liberal, side to this so-called beacon of press freedom.

Let’s look at some facts. The Qatari government owned TV station prides itself as being a champion and promoter of human rights in a region more known for a slavish adherence and non-questioning of human rights violations.

So where, for example, does Al Jazeera stand on reporting about multiple deaths of migrant laborers working on the showpiece stadia and accommodation for the much feted – and controversial – 2022 World Cup? At last count 1,200 people have died. Coverage on Al Jazeera? Zero.

Research shows that this is a story that has attracted little interest on Al Jazeera at all. There has been no criticism of the appallingly high number of deaths. And no criticism of the government handling of the issue. Surely this a violation of free speech. Such a story in any other liberal democracy would have been front-page news.

When Britain decided in the 1980s to ban the broadcast of IRA spokesman at the height of the troubles – it caused national – (and international) outrage. Gerry Adams and other members of Sinn Fein were allowed to be filmed gold fishing but their voices were never heard.

Al Jazeera intensively covered the activities of the terrorist groups who for decades has fueled extremist ideas in the Middle East. Such coverage brought the emerging terrorists group into the limelight, making it easy for them to expand and attract young Arab supporters

Najah Al-Osaimi

Elephant in the room

But in Qatar the elephant in the room didn’t even materialize as the squeak of a mouse when it came to being reported. And what about the claims that Al Jazeera has allowed supporters of terrorism to air their grievances and provide a platform for international militants?

Al Jazeera intensively covered the activities of the terrorist groups who for decades has fueled extremist ideas in the Middle East. Such coverage brought the emerging terrorists group into the limelight, making it easy for them to expand and attract young Arab supporters. If there hasn’t been this intensive coverage, would the number of militants rise from a few hundreds to thousands today?

ISIS in Iraq serves an example. It started as a small and less known group operating in Iraq quickly expanded to form ISIS in its present form, thanks to an intensive coverage by Al Jazeera. Its coverage follows the line of what Ayman al-Zawahiri, leader of al-Qaeda once said: “More than half of this war is taking place on the battlefield of the media”.

Platform for radicals

The channel has even given a platform to the extremists who used it as an opportunity to spread their ideas among the Arab youth. Throughout the Iraq war Al Jazeera repeatedly aired videos of Osama bin Laden justifying and inciting violence against Western forces. The channel also received tapes from the (7/7) London suicide bombers.

Its “Opposite Direction” program, in May 2015, declared that 80 percent of viewers polled had declared their support for ISIS’s “victories” in Iraq and Syria. Aren’t these instances of supporting terrorists and their acts responsible for radicalizing the audience?

Since the start of the Gulf boycott, Qatar has played the sympathy card trying to win special consideration and prove that it is a victim of the suppressive Gulf leaders who want to silence free speech.

However, things did not change and the channel continuously invited leaders of extremist groups who are considered terrorists to speak freely to millions of viewers, such as leader of Hamas Khalid Misha’al, Hassan Nasrallah the leader of Hezbollah, and Abumuhammed Al-Julani from Al-Nusrah Front group. Al Jazeera’s interview with Nusrah Front leader al-Julani was so popular that it has been called Qatar’s “infomercial” for the group.

The radical spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, is banned from entering multiple countries including the UK for charges of financing terrorist groups. What do you derive when he is featured on a television show on Al Jazeera called (Sharia and Life) to broadcast his sermons?

During the show Qaradawi once said he wanted to address the “treacherous Jews” and said “Oh Allah, take this profligate, cunning, arrogant band of people… do not spare a single one of them. Oh Allah. Count their numbers, and kill them, down to the very last one.”

British militants

Al Jazeera Arabic is also beamed in Western countries, which have witnessed acts of terrorism in the past. But did the influence of Al Jazeera give birth to British militants? Such an incident came to the surface when Yossif Zaghba, one of the London Bridge attackers, was reported to be radicalized by the channel.

The Gulf States and the US President Donald Trump have pledged to root out the sources of global extremism in the recent Riyadh’s summit. Trump stressed on the fact that it is the Muslim countries, which must collaborate and take the lead in fighting extremism.

The demand of the Gulf states to shut down Al Jazeera is a part of their approach to eradicate terrorism and prevent the spread of extremist ideologies.

Surely Qatar needs to join the international fight against global terror networks. Taking Al Jazeera off the air may seem a draconian proposition – but a draining of the swamp – as Donald Trump would put it – is long overdue and required.
Najah Al-Osaimi is a Research Fellow with the Center for Response to Radicalization in London-based think-tank, Henry Jackson Society. Views in this article is her own only.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.