Bill Doskoch: Media, BPS*, Film, Minutiae

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Qatar looking to unload al-Jazeera

If you're looking to buy a popular but unprofitable Arab TV satellite news network that comes complete with powerful enemies such as the U.S. government, contact the Emir of Qatar.

Here's some excerpts from the NYT story:

The tiny state of Qatar is a crucial American ally in the Persian Gulf, where it provides a military base and warm support for American policies. Yet relations with Qatar are also strained over an awkward issue: Qatar's sponsorship of Al Jazeera, the provocative television station that is a big source of news in the Arab world.

Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and other Bush administration officials have complained heatedly to Qatari leaders that Al Jazeera's broadcasts have been inflammatory, misleading and occasionally false, especially on Iraq.

The pressure has been so intense, a senior Qatari official said, that the government is accelerating plans to put Al Jazeera on the market, though Bush administration officials counter that a privately owned station in the region may be no better from their point of view. …

Among the broadcasts criticized by the United States were repeated showings of taped messages by Osama bin Laden, and, more specifically, the reporting early last year, before Al Jazeera was kicked out of Iraq, of the journalist Ahmed Mansour, that emphasized civilian casualties during an assault on Falluja. The network also reports passionately about the Palestinian conflict.

“We understand that Americans are not happy with our editorial policies,” said Ahmed Sheikh, the network's news editor. “But if anyone wants us to become their mouthpiece, we will not do that. We are independent and impartial, and we have never gotten any pressure from the Qatari government to change our editorial approach.”

Mr. Sheikh said that Al Jazeera's budget last year was $120 million, including a subsidy of $40 million or $50 million from Qatar. Mr. Ballout said one reason for the shortfall was that businesses were afraid to advertise because of criticism they might get from Arab governments and the United States.

“We feel aggrieved that Al Jazeera's popularity has not been rewarded with the advertising it deserves,” said Mr. Ballout. “The merchant families in control in the Persian Gulf feel they cannot sustain their position if they are not part of the status quo.”

The story notes that among the governments angry at al-Jazeera include Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran and Egypt.

“They must be doing something right,” an American official said.


Some previous posts on al-Jazeera or related items:

Canada slapped over al-Jazeera restrictions (Jan. 28)

The war inside the Arab newsroom (Jan. 5)

Control room ( film review, July 21/04)

Mon, January 31 2005 » Main Page