Opinion: Push to silence Al Jazeera shows it must be doing something right

What do Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Bahrain, Egypt and Israel all have in common?

Well, other than checkered human rights records, they all seek to silence Al Jazeera. Though Israel isn’t party to the Saudi-led coalition targeting Qatar (and Al Jazeera), the Netanyahu government did cite Riyadh’s demands as inspiration in calling for its own ban last month.

The 24-hour news outfit broadcasting to millions in more than one hundred nations is far from perfect, but banning it does not serve democracy or make the Middle East safer.

Yes, as critics don’t tire of pointing out, Al Jazeera Arabic service leans toward Islamism and it could be more critical of Qatar. Though we could use a little less hypocrisy and a tad more comparative objectivity in this regard. Surely, in an ideal world we would have: a less left-leaning RT network more critical of Russia; less religious orthodoxy and Iranian propaganda on Press TV; and less right-wing fare and more criticism of the Trump administration on Fox. Which news agency is totally objective on all fronts?

The complaints from Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies is akin to the pot calling the kettle black. Similarly, many Israeli outlets engage in unbridled Zionist propaganda and promote anti-Palestinian hate with impunity.

Agree or not with Al Jazeera’s coverage, it does perform a necessary role in disseminating diverse news and views in and out of the Middle East. Clearly the problem in this part of the world is not too much press freedom; it’s the total opposite.

This pragmatic Israeli-Arab alliance should not come as a surprise. This is typical garden variety the enemy of my enemy is my friend for short term geopolitical goals. The strange bedfellows are jointly after the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran, both of which are linked to Qatar.

Sure the Qatari-funded news agency has its own unique issues, but these bans and restrictions are simply wrong and counterproductive.

From inception Al Jazeera has attracted flak for allegedly serving terrorists. Exhibit A in this accusation includes all the times Osama Bin Laden and other terrorist videos were aired. Which serious news agency would turn away from such scoops or exclusive news footage? Why is a news agency faulted for doing its job?

Critics also argue that it provides a platform for Islamism, anti-western rants and anti-Semitism. Agree or disagree with its coverage, any objective observer can vouch for the fact that the network does attempt to live up to one of its tag lines: “The opinion and the other opinion.” Viewers are exposed to a variety of viewpoints, including opposing ones: left and right; conservative and liberal; government and dissident; and religious and secular. Ironically, it is attacked by some in the Muslim world as a tool of Zionists for being the first Arab network to host Israeli officials and commentators.

The alliance also claims that the network is guilty of incitement in its coverage of regional conflicts, such as the Arab Spring, the ongoing crisis in Yemen and even the recent Israeli crackdowns. The focus in this regard is on the Arabic channels, which many observers have noted are different in style, content and target audience from the English division. If such is the case, then why not selectively restrict or prosecute segments that violate domestic hate or incitement laws without banning the entire network? These nations are already experts at censorship. Indeed, none of them fared well in the 2017 press freedom barometer compiled by the Reporters Without Borders.

The Middle East needs more free speech, not less. No one has to agree with Al Jazeera, CNN, Fox or CBC, but diversity of opinions is oxygen to the vein that feeds democracy. Suppressing opposing views only helps to promote visceral messages and provides fuel for those who advocate violence as an option.

When Arab dictatorships, Israel, the United States and Russia all have a problem with you, you must be doing something right.

Author: Faisal Kutty

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