International

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Al-Jazeera Bows to Criticism from Saudi Royals

January 16, 2008 09:41 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
The Saudi royal family appear to have prevented Qatari news channel Al-Jazeera from portraying them unfavorably. This is not the first time the network's journalistic integrity has been questioned.

30-Second Summary

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Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld once dismissed Al-Jazeera as the “mouthpiece for al-Qaida.” But respected Western journalists have applauded the network for its coverage of Middle Eastern and world politics.

In November 2007, New York Times columnist Roger Cohen wrote that not only do Americans need “to watch Al-Jazeera to understand how the world has changed,” but in a region whose media typically consists of state-run outlets, “its striving for balanced reporting from a distinct perspective seems genuine.”

But a recent article in the International Herald Tribune cast doubt on the channel’s independence.

According to the Tribune, Al-Jazeera was conspicuously silent when in, November 2007, a 19-year-old woman was sentenced to 200 lashes by a Saudi court after she pressed charges against seven men who raped her.

The story sparked outrage in the Middle East and abroad, but not at Al-Jazeera.

According to the Tribune, inside sources at the channel say that Qatar’s ruling Al-Thani family has advised against stories that cast the Saudi royal family in a negative light.

Ironically, it was a Saudi censorship dispute that led to Al-Jazeera’s creation.

In the mid 1990s, the BBC launched an Arabic-language news channel called Arabic TV. However, the BBC’s Saudi business partner scrapped the channel in 1996 after it filmed a documentary on Saudi executions.

The fledgling Al-Jazeera quickly filled the void. Founded on a grant from Qatari Sheikh Hamad al-Thani, the channel recruited much of Arabic TV's staff and modeled its programming after that of the BBC.

In the words of international correspondent Michael Moran, the Qatari ruler understood from “BBC Arabic’s short life that the long-term interests of Islam would be served best by truth rather than censorship.”

Headline Link: ‘Al-Jazeera No Longer Nips at Saudis’

Background: The early days of Al-Jazeera

Historical Context: The Saudi Royals; the Iraq war

Opinion & Analysis: Expanding the Middle East’s horizons

Reference Material: Online and on the airwaves

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