Al Jazeera faces growing criticism, recognition

Bloomberg this week waded into a growing debate in Arab media on whether Doha-based news network Al Jazeera is transitioning away from its position as regional champion of independent journalist toward a new role as  ”Qatar mouthpiece.” 

Its two Beirut correspondents write:

The strength of the regional station, founded in 1996 and based in Qatar, had been that it offered an alternative to broadcasters controlled by national governments, whose coverage invariably reflected narrow regime interests rather than a popular understanding of events.

Now, Al-Jazeera is being accused of the same sin as those state-run enterprises — of being a vehicle for a regime, in this case that of Qatari Emir Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani.

In support of this argument are critiques by columnist Sahar Mandour in the Lebanese newspaper As-Safir, and Saudi writer Ramzy Baroud in the Arab News, questioning Al Jazeera’s reporting in Syria.

Last month, the editor-in-chief of Lebanon’s Al Akhbar, Ibrahim Al-Amin, wrote his own scathing denunciation of Al Jazeera, saying it has “dealt a blow to every genuine attempt to build strong and reasonably independent Arab media.” 

Most notable in all of this though, is that all the criticism deals very specifically with Al Jazeera’s Arabic news channel, making little or no mention of it’s English news service.

Al Jazeera English (AJE) in fact, was recognized this year as “News Channel of the Year” at the UK’s 2012 Royal Television Society Awards, and has held the title of “News Channel of the Year” for three successive years at Britain’s Freesat Awards. 

And where Al Jazeera Arabic (AJA) has seen repeated criticized for its limited coverage of the conflict in Bahrain, Al Jazeera English (AJE) has won no less than three awards for its reporting on the uprising, and May Ying Welsh’s documentary “Shouting in the Dark.”

There are actually more awards and nominations for AJE that could be named, but I think the point is made. 

What do you think? Is AJE replacing AJA as the Middle East’s champion of free media? Or is AJA, the most-watched Arabic news channel, just the easiest target?

Credit: Photos of Al Jazeera Arabic and Al Jazeera English by Duncan Davidson

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