The Rise And Fall Of The Al Jazeera Network During And After The Arab Spring

In the early 90s when television was gaining its reputation in the Arab World. Each state and its ruling family made sure that they had their own televisions network that can create their local identity, loyalty, and control the information flow to the public. The news that was flowing in the Arab world was completely controlled and filtered by the government. The controlled media consisted of viewers having to bare long coverage of rulers visiting the hospitals or village. This created a delay in the real news reaching the public and promoted a biased view of the rulers in the society. This portrayed unprofessional and immature reporting with low production standard. Soon a network came in existence which started showcasing the uncensored footage of the countries and regions, political changes with the inspiration and ethics of western news programme like BBC and CNN. Furthermore, the first batch of the journalist in this network was mainly people who have worked in the BBC previously. This channel was Al Jazeera.

Al Jazeera is an independently owned news organization majorly funded by the Qatari government and the royal family of Qatar. Al Jazeera English was launched in 2006, but their Arabic counterpart was the first independent channel in the Arab world, which was launched in 1996 majorly providing overall news and live debates, broadcasting in over 100 countries. Al Jazeera Network has more than 3000 experienced staff from over 70 nations, thus makes it one of the most diverse networks in the world also having correspondence in over all the world makes it a major world news channel.

Started in an Arabic country Tunisia, The Arab Spring was an array of anti-government protest, campaigns, uprising and armed rebellions that came across the whole Middle East in late 2010. Al Jazeera was a major television network that covered the whole Middle East and the chain of events during the uprising and shared it across the world from the roots. Al Jazeera English and Al Jazeera Arabic have covered the Arabic spring, but both have played very different roles in portraying the news to the world although being from the same parental organization and ideologies, nevertheless they still showcased two different perspectives. The expectation was that in countries where people rose, such as Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Bahrain and Syria, the old autocracies would be replaced with new democracies.

The economic model based on patronage was crumbling in these countries. Rulers had been in power for decades and there was a popular longing for freedom from their repressive regimes. The annoyance in youth over unemployment and poor living standard condition was some of the main factors that led to the Arab Spring revolution.

Economic disruption and disturbance in society kept the revolution alive throughout the period. Initially, ordinary people didn’t join the revolution as it spreads. However, this bought unity amongst people of the countries and joined from the different regions. Social media was used to spread the message across the world in the west, alongside Al Jazeera English and Al Jazeera Arabic. Both Arabic and English Al Jazeera covered the Arab spring around the clock through their channel and social media platforms.

Al Jazeera very vividly and transparently broadcasting its information regarding Qatar’s authoritarian regime and people dissenting about that and demanding a pure democratic nation. Which initially for the sake political gains insisted Qatar Rulers follow up with the masses. But eventually, turn out to be the absolute political disruption. Says Maravan Kabalan, Prof at Calamus University at Damascus, and a follower of Al Jazeera news content.

The continuous coverage of the Arabic spring put it in the centre of all the controversial issues leading to an increased presence and popularity and in turn leading to its rise. This is further backed up by Fadi Salem who is a researcher of Arab media who puts forward the view that controversial coverage and becoming the channel of dissent regarding the autocratic role of government and media, was one way to gain increased presence and rising above all the major channels in Arab media.

2011 was the year when some of the biggest achievement took place in the uprising after the demolition of governments in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen. The actions came about by big protest and violent revolutions. Challenging the government directly and making them aware that the corruption, helpless policies and police and authorized brutality will no longer be bearable to citizens. In the middle of the Arab Spring revolution the country was given a lot of new political parties, pressure groups, newspapers, and media houses, in countries like Libya where all political parties were banned under Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi’s administration; around 374 parties contested election in the 2012 parliamentary elections after dethroning the leader from power. The network gained recognition or in other words rised when Arab governments shut down its local bureaux and expelled journalist whose coverage had offended them in some way or the another. The coverage consisted of power cuts that prevented people to watch a certain programme, Al Jazeera became famous after showing videotape messages from Al-Qaida and interviewing their terrorists and leaders. Qatar’s ruling family was investing millions of dollars into their network was a very smart move as this investment has put its channel and country on every political and diplomatic platform.

A professor of Middle East studies at George Washington University said that Al Jazeera is responsible for the common struggle across the Arab world.

The network came to highlight after the 9/11 terrorist attack on the US World Trade Centre Towers and the War against Terrorism by the US that followed immediately after this. Many news agencies were relying on Al Jazeera’s footages, their reporters and correspondences. The network was majorly famous for showing the recorded message of Al Qaeda leaders. Al Jazeera network became so disdain and controversial content provider and all these provoked the then US President George W Bush wants to bomb the Al Jazeera headquarters in Doha, but UK Prime Minister Tony Blair suggested him not to do that.

The network covered the War of Gaza of very professionally and reported from the ground zero they had their Arabic Crew as well as the English-speaking crew as well inside Gaza who was reporting from there. Al Jazeera English thought that this can be a very important steps for their reputation point of view that across all Western news organisation and they wanted to give them exclusive image of the war to be shown on channels like BBC and CNN, at this time the actually gained a lot of respect among journalist, professors, intellectuals and everyone who was keeping a close eye on the War because Al Jazeera was giving ground reporting and footage which was not available on any other Arab media but soon network realized that they are not getting representation among the big news organisation like NBC CBS ABS. Al Jazeera realised that their footage was getting broadcasted on a big organisation that frustrated the network editorial bench and they launched an initiative called the “creative commons initiate” which basically allowed Al Jazeera to broadcast their footage on the internet for free but still had ownership of it. Exclusive footage of an on-going war was available for free on the internet that got picked up from big organisation and put Al Jazeera in the centre of all western news media and also the Palestinian issue which they were covering was very sensitive so that gave Al Jazeera a very clean and reputed image in the journalism world.

In the year of 2011 during the Arab Spring demonstrations Al Jazeera’s live coverage from the streets of Cairo, Tunisia and Tripoli were very inspiring for the protesters and rebellions that helped the dethroning of big rulers like Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and leaders like Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi.

Initially, in the Arab spring, the network was in a rise in order to provide unbiased news coverage and becoming the voice of the unheard but soon the network was accused of a lot of controversies including, the accusation of being biased in their coverage by Ali Hashem (BBC correspondent). Al Jazeera was very popular during the revolt in Egypt and Tunisia but soon after this, the Fall of Al Jazeera started as people became aware of Al Jazeera being biased on some parts of the region. If we look at Al Jazeera’s coverage in Bahrain’s it is visible that the network has not covered the issue on the same pace and enthusiasm, that they were covering over the other parts. After this, a series of mistakes and allegations were made towards the channel like broadcasting unverified videos from the region and tailoring to the footage. During the uprising, the channel was accused in involving and becoming the voice of the rebellions and rather than covering some events, network’s Arabic part was seen cheerleading the rebellions this has been seen in their language on television and reporting as well. Several attempts were made to shut down Al Jazeera by the western countries and in the Middle East as well, attempts like shutting down the website for a longer period during the revolt in Tunisia by the Tunisian authorities. The network was also seen mostly silent during the revolts in Bahrain that has been given the explanation of the Qatari government’s settlement to ignore tension with Saudi Arabia. Al Jazeera’s minimal coverage toward Bahrain was taken as the propaganda and questioned its credibility and subjectivity towards unbiased journalism. “Al Jazeera Arabic has seriously damaged its brand in the Middle East by taking a dive on Bahrain, and basically following the dictates of the Saudi government and broadcasting only from the Bahrain royal family point of view” (Dave Marash). Questions were once again raised against Al Jazeera due to coverage of outburst of spring in Saudi Arabia and Oman the channel was accused of being too hard on one side in order to provide voice to rebellions network has shown some of very disturbing and also unverified videos of kidnapping, murders and military decisions several reporting of the channel was later found out to be fabricated to suit one side of the story. Few weeks after the Egyptian revolt on 30 June, 22 Al Jazeera journalists resigned in protest of what they say as biased journalism, now the channel also faces aggressive competition in its region and also a lot of suspicion from authorities over the soft side air time given to Islamism groups in Syria, Libya and elsewhere. In Egypt now the image of the channel has totally changed viewers in Egypt seas the channel as critical of its government and it has been banned there since 2013. After a few days of the uprising in Egypt, the Egyptian state started spreading a propaganda campaign about the Revolution and demonstrations that were happening over there. Mainstream Egyptian media which was controlled by the authorities gave a warning about people getting looted in the revolt and appealed to viewers to stay inside their houses and told people that armed thugs have tried to infiltrate the protester during the revolt. State media in Egypt also issued alarming warning about international journalist brainwashing people with their personal “hidden agendas” and accused Al Jazeera of encouraging people to come out and protest. A picture of Al Jazeera journalist was also spread across the region portraying she had been trained by Americans And Israelis in Qatar where Al Jazeera have their headquarters.

Egyptian armed forces have arrested a lot of Al Jazeera’s journalist, two of its reporters have been accused of leaking state secrets to Qatar and charged in national security hence court in Cairo has recommended the Death penalty for them. Three other journalists from Al Jazeera has been sentenced between seven and 10 years on charges of spreading false news to help some terrorist organisations but freed later due to lack of evidence. The political characteristic of the network was once again visible in November 2011 when a minister from the foreign affair in Syria said that the Toxic coverage from some of the network (referring to Al Jazeera) has affected the political change. AL Jazeera has been accused of customizing its reporting to support Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza against their Lebanese and Palestinian rivals, reporters in Tunisia and some other parts were reported to be biased in the uprising. Having an estimated Viewership of about 40 million across the world on its entire channels.

“Al Jazeera has given a lot of support to the Muslim Brotherhood. There’s no doubt about that,” said Hugh Miles, a freelance journalist in Cairo and the author of “Al-Jazeera: The Inside Story of the Arab News Channel That Is Challenging the West.” Al Jazeera was much appreciated for their Egypt Revolution due to their coverage that helped downfall of the President Husni Mubarak and also helped in raising the voice of the unheard to the world but soon after that Egyptian authorities and networks critics including some of its own employees started blaming the network about being a speaker for the Morsi and the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. The channel repeatedly emphasizes the power of the Muslim Brotherhood in the region and that has been reflected in their coverage, like zooming in on small crowds to make them look large and more aggressive or splitting the screen area to portray that multiple protests are taking the place at the same time. While the network credibility in the Middle East was questionable but their image was much hyped up in US market soon after launching their office in US Al Jazeera hired 650 employees from different big News agencies like CNN and Vice including Ali Velshi who was hired from CNN as the president, but the image didn’t really last that long because the channel was repeatedly accused of being the voice of Islamist terrorism and anti-American because of their close coverage and interviews from Al Qaida (A Terrorist Organisation).

Curtailing the role of media and manifesting hostility towards media groups and agencies by the authoritarian governmental organisation of various countries is world-wide phenomena. This is the challenge before the Arab protesters, they are angry. They want the system to be changed. But they are the multitudes. There’s no vanguard of the revolution. While they keep revolting against the system, they are constantly being pushed or incited against media by a various pro-authoritative government organisation.

In conclusion, it is believed that Al Jazeera was influenced by the mannerism of western journalism and its network which lead to its rise. However, it kept strategic ties with some nations such as the US this support from the US showed the potential of a greater rise and strong credibility. Its major rise arose from its initiative to cover the Arabic Spring with through an unbiased lens but during this process, it was caught up in the politics of journalism. Al Jazeera is still a medium through which the news of the Middle East is shared to the west, but it is unknown if it is biased or unbiased, for example portraying some countries such as the UK and the US in a positive light to gain popularity and financial funding from the respective countries.

The two parts of the channel Al Jazeera English and Al Jazeera Arabic both have played a very significant role in uprising; although this is in everyone notice that at some point there was much difference between the ideology of both parts and accusation has been done between both organisation as well that actually gave the rest of the world the idea of defaming the channel and harming its reputation in the West as well in The Middle East.

The network started questioning so many authorities question that was never asked before led to its fall in the Middle East and in the West. If after looking at their coverage of the war against terrorism by US Al Jazeera has criticised the United States on several occasion and questioned the US a lot more than any other Western news organisation. The network has always been a voice of the unheard and always challenged authorisation and government despite off all the accusation the network has got viewers and Al Jazeera itself still believes that the network is only doing their job in journalism and abiding by the objectives of it. An accusation of being the voice of terrorism on the network is still irrelevant and a hoax because during all its coverage and footage that Al Jazeera has spread the channel has never sympathized with any terrorist organisation. US media has always relied on the network journalistic approach of getting interviews and statements of terrorist but that’s just the job of a journalist should be done throughout their career.

09 March 2021
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