Why Al Jazeera is necessary

Al Jazeera ‘The island’ was founded on 1 November 1996 after the closure of the BBC Arabic language service. It is state-funded by Qatar; however, it is hotly contested whether the channel is simply a mouthpiece for the government. It has grown rapidly despite its short history, not only extending beyond Arab news and current affairs but is also prominent online and is now in multiple languages. It has 80 bureau’s around the world and has been revolutionary in the Arab world, being the only channel to broadcast the Afghan war live and the first to conduct phone ins. However, now Saudi Arabia, the country that recently sentenced pro-democracy blogger Raif Badawi to 10,000 lashes and 10 years in jail, is trying to only shut down the only gutsy large broadcaster in the Arab world. This is not only an extraordinary attack on free speech but also allows Saudi Arabia to spread its Wahhabi ideology more easily. In addition, though a minister from the UAE has claimed that there only needs to be “fundamental change and restructuring” rather than a complete shutdown, its position is still precarious. It is therefore vital to understand why, though flawed, Al Jazeera is needed.

Of course, Al-Jazeera is not the only reason why the Saudis are targeting Qatar, it is friendly with Iran as well harbouring many people the Saudis do not like, with connections to Al Qaeda. However, Al Jazeera must not be shut down as it is a lifeline of relative free speech to many in the Arab world. Unlike other Middle Eastern broadcasters, which often stream constantly positive government footage, Al Jazeera has a more objective angle trying to show viewers what is actually happening. It offered a platform for many protestors during the 2011 Arab Spring. This brought them much praise for helping democracy spread, but has also brought condemnation as they broadcast the Muslim Brotherhood which many Arab dictators saw as a threat and the west saw as an extremist group. More recently, Al Jazeera has been very strong on reporting on the migrant crisis. Al Jazeera is needed by many in the Middle East as it provides an alternative to government propaganda and more objective broadcasting even though some of its content is controversial.

It is also disliked in the west, when it broadcast Osama bin Laden’s recorded messages from Afghanistan many viewed this as promoting terrorism worldwide. Bill O’Reilly went on to claim that Al Jazeera is “anti-Semitic” and “anti-American”. This led to Dave Marash, who worked for Al Jazeera English to defend the station, saying that they are against the current leadership of Israel. Moreover, it has been attacked in Iraq both in 2004 when Saddam Hussein’s government closed its Baghdad office for a month and in 2016 when it was closed for a year for supposedly inciting violence. So, al Jazeera is nowhere near a perfect organisation and has numerous, incredibly powerful critics.

However, Al Jazeera is still needed. It is always open to various viewpoints from the official to dissidents, domestic policy and international politics. It has not only been watched by many famous people in the west but has inspired them too. Dick Van Dyke said that “they have news that you can’t find anywhere else” whereas Al Gore described Al Jazeera English as having “established a reputation for excellence and integrity and objectivity”. This not only shows that Al Jazeera is important but demonstrates that it is vital for showing people in the west some objective news about the Middle East. There is however, a large difference between Al Jazeera English which is more liberal and Arabic Al Jazeera which is more tolerant of extremism and has been moving more towards being a mouthpiece of the Qatari government. This does still not justify Saudi Arabia’s actions as they want both completely closed or at least completely restructured, despite both still performing an invaluable service for worldwide. Al Jazeera is as a result, just as important for people in the West as it broadcasts news that conventional news broadcasters such as the BBC does not transmit about the Middle East.

For a degree of free speech, the hope of an objective press and to retain a vital news service, Al Jazeera must continue. It is clear Saudi Arabia is trying to extend its own influence, censorship and kill political debate. Al Jazeera rightly does have many critics and its Arabic version is far more controversial, however compared to other Middle Eastern news networks it is more open to debate and Al Jazeera English is far more reputable. The death of Al Jazeera would be a sad death for journalism not only in the Middle East but worldwide as a valuable link between the Middle East and the west will be unreasonably lost.