Al Jazeera had hailed itself as the voice of the voiceless has become a shill for Qatar’s foreign agenda, clearly avoiding the voices that did not support Qatar’s policies. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: On June 1, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dr Anwar Gargash summed it up in a tweet.

“The media summary after one year of the Qatar crisis: Saudi Twitter beat Al Jazeera [Television]; your voice is louder and clearer when you defend your homeland.”

When the pan-Arab channel was launched by Qatar in 1996 with a budget of 500 million Qatari riyals ($137 million), there were claims that the Arab media landscape would change forever and that standards would be elevated to international levels.

The channel, built on the defunct BBC Arabic, gained notoriety by covering controversial and taboo issues.

Did the owners of Al Jazeera project predict that it would one day turn into a liability for Doha? They launched it with great fanfare, but they now discover that it has become a state within the state. The question today is does Doha own Al Jazeera or does Al Jazeera own Doha and dictates its decisions?”

 - Saeed Al Hamad | Veteran Bahraini media personality


It asserted its international presence with its coverage of the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent wars and armed conflicts.

In 2011, it had a major role in the dramatic events that unfolded in Arab countries, mainly Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Syria and Libya.

And then, as its political agenda became clear and disputed by the Arab masses, the downfall began.

Reflecting on the history of the channel, veteran Bahraini media figure Saeed Al Hamad wondered who was behind the channel.

In an interview with Gulf News Al Hamad asked: “Did the owners of Al Jazeera project predict that it would one day turn into a liability for Doha? They launched it with great fanfare, but they now discover that it has become a state within the state. The question today is does Doha own Al Jazeera or does Al Jazeera own Doha and dictates its decisions?”

Al Hamad said that Qatar for a long time was euphoric and exalted that Al Jazeera had great influence in the Arab scene, especially during the sharp crises in some Arab capitals.

“Al Jazeera was omnipresent in all crises with pictures and sound. It played in its own on fuelling crises so that it would give the impression that it was in the midst of it and a part of the decisions to be made. It invited rebellious voices and allocated them huge time and space to grow in influence and consequently elevate the stature of Al Jazeera,” he said.

Moroccan journalist Abdulhak Sanaibi said that Al Jazeera when it was set up launched a massive charm campaign to lure viewers.

Two decades after its launch, Al Jazeera is being thanked by Daesh, Al Qaida and the Muslim Brotherhood.”

 - Abdulhak Sanaibi | Moroccan journalist


“People believed that a new media light was shining from Qatar on the dark Arab homeland and that it would guide it out of ignorance, arrogance and the sole official opinion to the gardens of freedom of thought and expression. The new channel would teach the Arabs the virtues of civilised dialogue and how to disagree without hostility or rivalry,” he said, writing for Saudi daily Al Riyadh.

“Al Jazeera relentlessly tried to present itself as an independent and neutral platform for all, without any allegiance or subservience. It wanted to be equated with the new sun of freedom casting its light on the Arab world in order to enlighten their minds, liberate their tongues and bring them closer to the affairs of their country with fairness, impartiality, and neutrality. Such an approach would make the ruler transparent to the knowledgeable citizens and thus, people’s issues would be addressed, countries would prosper and nations would be happy.”

However, shortly after its “media empowerment”, the pan-Arab channel moved to the next stage of propagating the terrorist ideologies of Al Qaida, Daesh and the Muslim Brotherhood, he charged.

“Under the much-trumpeted claims of breaking news, journalism professionalism, efficiency and competence, {Osama] Bin Laden entered Arab homes and terrorists celebrated the fall of the world trade towers in the September 11 attacks on the screens of Al Jazeera. Under the cover of multiple opinions and ‘Know Your Enemy’, Zionists became familiar faces as they barged through Al Jazeera to sit with Arab families around their tables. Under the allegations that it wants to enlighten minds, empower aptitudes, build capacities, free peoples and achieve dignity, freedom and prosperity, Al Jazeera was used to coerce countries into submission and to encourage people to revolt against their rulers and re-build their nations. The call to protests was at times in the name of religion and at others in the name of freedom and social justice.”

Al Hamad said that the malicious schemes adopted by Al Jazeera did not last and the channel gradually lost the interest of people.

“Some other channels came up and used the same methods of pushing participants to scream and shout to attract audiences keen on fights on TV. Soon, local audiences preferred to watch the heated arguments of their people on their national television channels, and Al Jazeera lost its lustre.”

Since that moment, Al Jazeera’s audience number plummeted sharply and the channel resorted to openly court every chaotic and rebellious group in an attempt to address the situation, Al Hamad said.

“In such a game, Al Jazeera was forced to reveal its true colours and people comprehended that it was an ideology-driven channel that was serving its own agenda through its interviews, perspectives and reports.”

The channel that had hailed itself as the voice of the voiceless has become a shill for Islamist extremists and Qatar’s foreign agenda, clearly avoiding the voices that did not support Qatar’s policies.

People started to ask the question: Who is behind this channel and who decides its policies, editorial line and goals.

It is based in Qatar, but it has no Qatari anchors, no Qatari stories, and no Qatari coverage of the local scene.

During Haj seasons, it turns into a channel of sensations, like yellow newspapers. Its reports focused on attacking Saudi Arabia, doubting its capabilities and denigrating its achievements.

Reports are no longer based on “reliable” sources but on stories planted on Twitter or in Facebook. People who are little known outside their immediate circles are promoted as experts and analysts and invited to share their “in-depth” assessment of major issues as long as they converge with the views of Al Jazeera.

Fabricated videos have been used to discredit Arab armies and show them in negative light and fuel anger and hostility against them.

In Yemen, figures were inflated and events exaggerated in order to incite the international community against the Arab coalition to restore legitimacy.

Claims made by human rights groups are taken at their face value and used against the members of the coalition, without the regular verification or triangulation required from professional entities in such matters.

In the crisis between four Arab countries and Qatar, the channel sided blindly with Doha and sought to dehumanise the other capitals, using every opportunity to attack them. The channel’s reports started with the aim they wanted to achieve and then looked for arguments to build their anti-Quartet narrative.

Feelings among Arabs have turned bitterly sour about the channel that was increasingly looking more like an office at Qatar’s Emir Court or foreign ministry than a news operator.

Bahrain’s Information Minister Ali Al Romaihi has been very explicit in analysing the “destructive role” of Al Jazeera.

After losing the power to influence and to direct the masses, Al Jazeera is now trying to regain some ground through cheap populist means, he said.

“It is no secret how Al Jazeera has since its inception been a terrible example of the Arab media. It has shown how dangerous irresponsible media can be when it becomes a tool of destruction and provocation of the Arab peoples and when it turns into an ominous platform to promote extremist ideas and incite hatred and terrorism,” Al Romaihi said at a conference in Tunis.

He said that the history of contemporary Arab media has not witnessed such an unprecedented chaos and interference in the internal affairs of Arab countries.

“Freedom of expression was a means to achieve noble and enlightening goals. Today, freedom of expression has become the means to insult others. This is a anew culture that Al Jazeera has established. It has disseminated hatred and arrogance towards Arab regimes and institutions, causing Arabs to lose confidence in the state, society and eventually in themselves. The Arabs have turned into the biggest losers.”

In his comments on Al Jazeera, Sanaibi reached a similar conclusion.

“Two decades after its launch, Al Jazeera is being thanked by Daesh, Al Qaida and the Muslim Brotherhood while millions of their victims, afflicted by sedition, ruin, destruction and terrorism complain to God and pray that the channel gets shut down for the sake of Arab and Islamic unity and for the sake of all those who had been exiled or made to suffer because of its direct and indirect role,” he said.