Some notes on Al-Jazeera these days
So, I don’t get to watch much TV these days, but I do try to tune into Al-Jazeera every once in a while. There has been a lot of talk about the Saudi-Qatari political rapprochement and how this has supposedly led the channel to be less critical of both the Saudis and the Americans. Marc Lynch at Abu Aardvark thinks there’s not much to that argument, As’ad Abu Khalil of Angry Arab fame is convinced it is true. Personally in my snippets of watching, I tend to believe it is true, but that the thesis' applicability is only in certain spheres. They are much more circumspect in their Iraq coverage, tending to give more credence to Iraqi government and American officials and not as much to the various armed and unarmed opposition as they used to, and seem to be neutering their language/word-choice to American sensibilities. This is not absolute by any means, they did a groundbreaking interview with Muqtada al-Sadr just recently, but it does seem to me to be a trend that stands out. Removing the Sami al-Hajj irritant seen in this light could very well be an American olive branch attempting to get Al-Jazeera to be that much more compliant now that they sense the propaganda winds blowing in their direction.
I guess the more I think of it, the more it seems the point mostly is about Jazeera's Iraq, Saudi and American coverage. Outside of that (granted, those are big important topics not to be lightly dismissed), I don’t sense any backing down on topics such as Hizbullah, Hamas, Iran, and resistance to the Israelis or further American “projects” in the region (though their coverage of the deployment of American-trained Fatah security forces to Jenin today was more than a little irksome and uncritical). The broader Palestinian issue is particularly noteworthy. The 60th anniversary of the Nakba (“disaster” in Arabic, referring to the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians in 1948 and Israel’s independence) is being covered prominently with lots of historical notes on events of those times, interviews with the few surviving old men and women refugees, coverage of anniversary conferences (one today in Denmark of European Palestinians seeking their right of return to their homeland), and general discussion of Palestinians’ and their right to return home. Indeed, they are playing a very positive role in helping I think to refocus the Arab world’s attention on the key issue – that right of return. Americans, Israelis, and Abbas & co. are at best willing to talk about borders, settlements, etc., but they’re all perfectly willing to leave the 6 million refugees out in the cold and ignore their most fundamental human rights. That in many ways is what caused the collapse of peace talks in 2000 – the Americans and Israelis considered the topic forbidden to even bring up, Palestinians when push came to shove insisted their basic humanity represented in the right of return was the core issue and not for sale. Al-Jazeera is certainly reminding people of that basic human right these days and deserve a lot of credit for that since Arab regimes are so in cahoots with the Israelis and Americans in trying to bury it.
Anyhow, I am admittedly only an occasional viewer of Al-Jazeera these days, so if others are watching it more and disagree, feel free to chime in. That is my take from my limited sample these days.
[UPDATE: I forgot to mention something else I've noticed lately around the time of the Saudi-Qatari rapproachment. Suddenly Al-Jazeera's broadcast and website have more advertising than before. See, the Saudis being ticked at the Qataris for so long were able to basically enforce an advertising ban on the channel. Saudi Arabia is the biggest advertising market in the region, so anyone who put commercials on Jazeera would get blackballed in Saudi, so they didn't. The result was you typically only saw ads from Qatari state-owned companies. I mean, Rasgas and Qapco are cool and all in their own way, but let's face it, not many Egyptians or Moroccans or Palestinians are making dire household consumer choices over where the plastic in their kids toys comes from, and none of the above has ever likely consumed a drop of Qatari LNG. No offense, but in the face of the Saudi advert blackout, those were just Qatari state subsidies to the channel. Anyhow, it wasn't for lack of eyeballs, Jazeera obviously in a truly free market has the ability to capture huge advertising revenue. Well, now suddenly one does see international companies starting to advertise more and even Saudi and UAE (the Saudi's bestest buddies) events and companies a bit. The blacklisting is thawing along with relations, while meanwhile the coverage on some key issues (see above) is geting dumbed down.]