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© Paul Keller

Al Jazeera Journalists Demand Press Freedom

Al Jazeera journalists have demands too.

When the diplomatic row between Qatar and the neighboring Gulf States erupted in June, the state-sponsored international news network, Al Jazeera, found itself at the heart of the crisis. Qatar has been accused of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, as well as funding terrorist groups, causing Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to cut diplomatic and commercial ties on June 5, 2017. The Gulf States have issued a list of 13 demands against Qatar that include limiting diplomatic ties to Iran and to “terrorist organizations” such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah, expelling Turkish troops stationed in Qatar and the shutdown of Al Jazeera.

How did the network become a prime target for the Arab coalition? Broadcasting to over 300 million households in more than 100 countries, with over 70 bureaus around the world, Al Jazeera is a renowned global outlet and the most watched news network in the Middle East. The state-owned media organization, which translates as “The Island,” was launched in 1996 with the financial backing of the country’s ruling Al Thani family. Unlike other government news agencies in the region, Al Jazeera allowed open, critical debate about its authoritarian neighbors — albeit with the exception of Qatar itself — and came to be seen as a threat to the status quo and a medium for Qatari soft-power influence.

The United Nations human rights chief said the Arab nations’ aims to close down Al Jazeera an “unacceptable attack to freedom of expression and opinion.” Its journalists have released a video calling for defense of press freedom with the message that journalism is not a crime.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Photo Credit: Paul Keller