Huh? Al Jazeera buys Current TV and FOX isn’t crying “Sharia Law”

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I fully expected the Fox Nation web site to be emblazoned with at least one Islamophobic headline after Al Jazeera bought Current TV where it “will provide both domestic news and international news for American audiences”.

Image from “What Fox has wrought: Anti-Park51 protests full of right-wing hate” at MediaMatters.org

I located a FOX Nation headline “Al Gore Hates Oil But Loves Oil Money” and I watched Megyn Kelly teasing Gore for having a “failing” channel that nobody has heard of.

Sheesh!  That’s it?!

This is what they said in 2009 when Al Jazeera contributed a report to a program on a PBS member station:

‘It is a professional institution but it is a militant institution that wants to convey an ideological Jihadi message’ 

And who could forget the fires of hatred FOX helped to stoke over a mosque near the former twin towers site in New York.

Curious. Not locating the FOX fear machine that I expected got me to reading on Al Jazeera and more.

One conclusion I drew: Al Jazeera is not infallible, oh dear Lefty friends  of mine. Please don’t don your rose-colored glasses for Al Jazeera English on U.S. cable just yet. Read on to gather the other conclusions.

Strings occasionally pulled by The Emir of Qatar

A reminder for some and news for others: Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani is the ruling Emir of the State of Qatar and has been such since 1995. Al Jazeera is owned and handsomely funded by the state of Qatar. While Qatar has made strides toward liberalization since the Emir came on board (granting women the right to vote in 1999, forming a constitution in 2005) one should note that Qatar IS an absolute monarchy under the leadership of the Al Thani family whose dynasty has ruled since 1825.

And one should know that Qatar still does the sort of things a sensitive monarchy does. Like put poets in prison for insulting Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani and “inciting to overthrow the ruling system”.

Qatari poet, Mohammad ibn al-Dheeb al-Ajami, was sentenced to prison for life (his lawyer will appeal).

From his controversial poem:
“We are all Tunisia in the face of repressive elites…
The Arab governments and who rules them are without exception thieves. Thieves.”

It would seem that the same Al Jazeera that did some of the finest reporting and coverage known to the world in the streets of the Arab Spring will not be showing you live streaming dissent from the streets of Qatar.

I got my news of the Qatari poet’s fate from wikipedia and Democracy Now.
Media watchers have noted that BBC was also quickly on the story of the poet’s plight, but Al Jazeera was much slower. It’s possible that Qatar’s “Article 53″ – passed by Qatar’s senate in June – was on Al Jazeera editors’ minds. It would prohibit publishing or broadcasting information that would as Human Rights Watch wrote ’throw relations between the state and the Arab and friendly states into confusion’ or ‘abuse the regime or offend the ruling family or cause serious harm to the national or higher interests of the state.’

Amy Goodman asked the Qatari poet’s attorney about ARticle 53, and he responded with a note of concern for Al Jazeera:

“..I said, the first man who will be arrested is Faisal al-Qassem, who make, you know, what called “Crossfire,” something like Crossfire on Al Jazeera, where he have two guys, and he starts telling him, “You know, your government is saying this and saying that, and your government is saying…” So, if these governments are a friend of Qatar, then he will be in prison. If they will apply it, the first people who will go to prison are Al Jazeera team, Al Jazeera editors.”

- Najeeb Al-Nuaimi

Coverage of Saudi Arabia will be nil. Coverage of the Middle East could be – shall we say “nuanced”?

As somebody who’s usually focused on the dairy state, I don’t feel overwhelmingly qualified to comment on Al Jazeera’s worldwide coverage or foreign policy.  Still, my curiosity about matters that may or may not color Al Jazeera’s reporting in the middle east got me mucking about on the web. Here are some of the tidbits I found which should go in the back pocket of Al Jazeera watchers:

Dave Marash: Why I Quit Dated 2008
The veteran newsman says Al Jazeera English’s mission changed
“…you see the state of Qatar and the royal family of Qatar starting to make up their feud with the Saudis, and you start to see on both Al Jazeera Arabic and English a very sort of first-personish, “my Haj” stories that were boosterish of the Haj and of Saudi Arabia… I’m suggesting that around that time, a decision was made at the highest levels of [Al Jazeera] that simply following the American political leadership and the American political ideal of global, universalist values carried out in an absolutely pure, multipolar, First Amendment global conversation, was no longer the safest or smartest course, and that it was time, in fact, to get right with the region….”

In September of 2012, Al Jazeera English journalists bristled at being told to by the home office to rearrange a report on a UN debate on Syria:

“Journalists had produced a package of the UN debate, topped with excerpts of President Obama’s speech, last Tuesday when a last-minute instruction came from Salah Negm, the Qatar-based news director, who ordered the video to be re-edited to lead with the comments from Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani.” – The Guardian

 

And from Peter Lee of Counterpunch comes a report of Al Jazeera journalists staging video in Syria and the news that “That Ahmad Ibrahim, who is in charge of the channel’s Syria coverage, is the brother of Anas al-Abdeh, a leading member of the opposition Syrian National Council.”

 

Reminder: FOX is owned in part by “The Most Influential Arab in the World”

Here’s where I’ll put on my conspiracy hat.  Sorry, but I’m just trying to figure out FOX.  Since Qatar is very close buddies with Saudi Arabia at the moment, and since FOX’s parent company News Corporation is 7% owned by Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, do you suppose that… well… this has something to do with FOX not going Islamophobe on Al Jazeera?

Alwaleed bin Talal has been called the most influential Arab in the world for the last eight years by ArabianBusiness.com. As of January 2013, the Bloomberg Billionaires Index listed Talal as the 10th-richest man in the world, with an estimated net worth of US $28.7 billion.

I am checking Fox Nation for maybe the 6th time over the past 2 days for signs of FOX slamming Al Jazeera for being an instrument of Scary Something. But no.

Today I see the headline “Gore Played Muslim Hate Card to Seal Al Jazeera Deal” and a story suggesting that to get cable providers to keep Current TV as owned by Al Jazeera, Gore may have threatened to publicly malign the stations for being Islamophobic if they dropped Current TV.

Hmmm.  Weak sauce, in my opinion.

Incidentally, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal had at one point boasted that he got Fox News to change its content relating to riots in Paris – source

 

Coverage of Israel. Could it be DIFFERENT?

Could it be  (and I feel very daring writing this from the belly of the country that does all it can to hail what Israel does) that Al Jazeera’s TV broadcasts in the U.S. might cast more of a questioning light on Israel?

Supposedly Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the U.S., and Israel have an alliance against Iran right now according to some foreign policy analysts (yup – this is my weak area) but there’s also this:

From New York Times, October 23, 2012:
The emir of Qatar on Tuesday became the first head of state to visit the Gaza Strip since Hamas took full control of it in 2007, the latest step in an ambitious campaign by the tiny Persian Gulf nation to leverage its outsize pocketbook in support of Islamists across the region — and one that threatened to widen the rift between rival Palestinian factions….
The visit signaled just how much the region had changed for Hamas since the advent of the Arab Spring. Where Egypt under President Hosni Mubarak once allied with Saudi Arabia to squeeze Hamas by keeping the border largely closed, Egypt under a new Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, opened the crossing to allow the Qatari ruler through.”

 

Time Warner isn’t necessarily afraid of owning Current TV/Al Jazeera English for its Qatar links

I’d feel remiss if I didn’t touch on this topic in the post.  Much was made by the Left-O-Sphere about Time Warner Cable (TWC) being anti-muslim or anti-Qatar or something similarly godawful when it dropped Current TV upon news of Al Jazeera buying it.  May I slowly raise my hand to say that CNN is owned by Turner which is owned by Times Warner Cable and may I suggest that *perhaps* TWC sees the entrance of Al Jazeera English into the American cable market as a threat to CNN’s market share?

TWC did clarify that the drop was due to low ratings [only 42,000 viewers a night] and TWC already had been sloughing off other poorly performing stations, such as Ovation at the end of 2012.

If you’re worried about the inroads Current TV/Al Jazeera English still has, keep in mind that DirecTV, Dish Network, Verizon, and AT&T are keeping Current TV. Here’s a list of the top 10 “Multichannel Videoprogramming Distributors” – plenty of space in the cable world to work with with or without TWC.

1 Comcast Corporation 22,118,000
2 DirecTV 19,914,000
3 Dish Network Corporation 14,061,000
4 Time Warner Cable, Inc. 12,484,000
5 Cox Communications, Inc.1 4,661,000
6 Verizon Communications, Inc. 4,473,000
7 Charter Communications, Inc. 4,269,000
8 AT&T, Inc. 4,146,000
9 Cablevision Systems Corporation 3,257,000
10 Bright House Networks LLC1 2,059,000

I praise the buy but keep a critical eye.

I am not maligning the buy of Current TV by Al Jazeera and I predict you’ll hear nary a discouraging word from this blogger until there’s real reason to discourage.  This is a good development. While old standards like TIME magazine have been closing down far-flung offices for years, Al Jazeera only expands – -now to 70 bureaus across the globe.  Reporters getting actual jobs is a good thing. And there’s some hope that NBC, CNN, and the gang of so-so American news outlets will have slick competition in Al Jazeera’s new bureaus in New York City, DC, LA, Miami, Chicago and elsewhere.

But let’s keep our eyes open and not praise until there’s something worth praising from Al Jazeera English on U.S. cable.

Incidentally, you could start watching now no matter what cable provider you have (or have not) since Aljazeera English and AJ Arabic are right now live on youtube.

Here’s Al Jazeera English live.
Here’s Al Jazeera Arabic live.

Check them out.

I’ll plug AJE into my site top right ‘o’ the page in the near future.

Some more resources:
Dated 2006
Cliff Kincaid of Accuracy In Media Debates Dave Marash of Al-Jazeera International [This is Marash before he became disenchanted with Al-Jazeera]

Why Is Qatar Mucking Around in Gaza?
Doha’s meddling in Palestinian affairs is much more about Iran than it is about Israel.

More from the poet Mohammad ibn al-Dheeb al-Ajami:
“The questions that frames the thoughts of those who wonder will not find an answer in any official channels.
As long as it imports everything it has from the west, why can’t it import laws and freedoms. Why can’t it import laws and freedoms.”

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