QATAR: Al Jazeera – Weapon in a Media War

ALEXIS CRUZ WRITES – Qatar provides the headquarters for the international media powerhouse Al Jazeera. While the network claims to be independent, one of their journalists who is currently incarcerated in Egypt, Mohamed Fahmy, claims that they have failed to support him in court because of political differences between Qatar and Egypt.

After three journalists were imprisoned, the network launched a media campaign that included the hashtag #FreeAJStaff to build support for their journalists and for journalistic freedom. However, in an opinion piece, Fahmy, an Egyptian-Canadian journalist, states that he and his colleagues were used as pawns for “political score setting” in a media war between Egypt and Qatar.

Egypt jailed the journalists because Qatar supported the Muslim Brotherhood. After the military ousted the Muslim Brotherhood, they labeled the group a terrorist organization. The military government banned Al Jazeera stations, including the Arabic station.

Egypt isn’t the only country frustrated over Al Jazeera’s seemingly pro-Muslim Brotherhood stance. In 2014, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates withdrew their ambassadors in Qatar after becoming increasingly frustrated with Al Jazeera’s Arabic channel for airing sermons by a Muslim Brotherhood preacher who routinely derides their regimes. Qatar still refused to stop supporting the Muslim Brotherhood.

Al Jazeera follows Qatar’s strict media laws, and media professionals in Qatar often practice “self-censorship.” It remains illegal to criticize the country and/or the government. Freedom House ranks the Qatari press status as “not free.”

Media ownership in Qatar is concentrated within the ruling family, and the government imposes high financial cost for obtaining media licenses along with citizenship requirements. The royal family retains tight control over the upper echelons of the Al Jazeera News Corporation and the decisions of the network, including the content of its Middle Eastern programming.

Al Jazeera is best known for offering coverage on global and regional news, occasionally providing uncritical reports on local issues.  The news network was founded by ruling emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifia and its chairman is his cousin, Sheikh Hamad bin Thamer bin Thani Al Thani.

The Egyptian journalists have been released on bail, but Mohamed Fahmy is currently facing retrial even after renouncing his Egyptian citizenship. His strategy: make the judge understand the difference between the work of individual journalists and the decisions of their network.

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