Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

Print Print Cite Cite
Style: MLA APA Chicago Close


Is al-Jazeera a News Network?

by Elliott Abrams
January 3, 2013


Today’s news informs us that Al Gore and his partners have sold their “left-leaning Current TV” to al-Jazeera, which is to say to the government of Qatar. Although “The nation’s second-largest TV operator, Time Warner Cable Inc., dropped Current after the deal was confirmed Wednesday,” the arrangement still opens many more American homes to the pan-Arab channel.

Any problem here? One, at least: al-Jazeera is wholly owned by the Qatari royal family, whose interests it will pretty obviously protect. It is not, in that sense, a news channel, even if it broadcasts news. Here’s a simple test: is al-Jazeera able to report candidly on events in Qatar? The answer is no.

Moreover, there is this story from the Guardian of London just last September: “Al-Jazeera’s editorial independence has been called into question after its director of news stepped in to ensure a speech made by Qatar’s emir to the UN led its English channel’s coverage of the debate on Syrian intervention.”

The Guardian’s story continued:

Al-Jazeera English was set up in 2006 by the Arabic broadcaster of the same name and both are owned by the Qatari state. The network, founded in 1996, gained credibility with audiences in the region for its seemingly independent coverage in the post 9/11 period. Its English channel was launched to offer an alternative, non-western-centric worldview. However, in recent years, Qatar has taken steps to consolidate its control over the channel as the country seeks greater political influence in the Gulf. In September 2011, Wadah Khanfar, a Palestinian widely seen as independent, suddenly left as director-general after eight years in the post and was replaced by a member of the royal family, Sheikh Ahmed bin Jassim al-Thani, a man with no background in journalism.

Henceforth, tens of millions of Americans will receive al-Jazeera English in their homes. It would be nice if the channel carried a little warning label to viewers, clarifying who owns al-Jazeera so that they understand they are getting all the news….that the Qatari government wants them to have. This problem is of course not unique to Qatar: in recent years Russia and China have launched 24-hour news channels in English and several other languages. Now, it may be argued that the British government wholly owns the BBC, as Deutsche Welle is owned by the German government, so why the objection if Qatar, and Russia and China, follow suit? For that matter, Voice of America is owned by the U.S. government.

Every government has the right to present a news channel, and has the right to decide whether that channel will be fully independent of government policy–like the BBC–or will reflect government policy–like al Jazeera. The answer is not censorship, but candor; if al-Jazeera were called Voice of Qatar, and clearly labeled as that nation’s international broadcaster, the situation would be clear to its viewers.

For example, the France 24 web site says “FRANCE 24 is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the public-funded holding company Audiovisuel Exterieur de la France.” The Deutsche Welle web site says “Deutsche Welle is regulated by public law and financed by federal tax revenue.” The al-Jazeera web site says “Al Jazeera English is an international news channel with over sixty bureaus around the world that span six different continents….Al Jazeera English is part of the Al Jazeera Network – one of the world’s leading media corporations, encompassing news, documentary and sport channels. Al Jazeera started out more than fifteen years ago as the first independent news channel in the Arab world dedicated to covering and uncovering stories in the region.” Nowhere is there any notice that al-Jazeera is in fact controlled by the government–and that’s the problem.

Post a Comment 15 Comments

  • Posted by Dean Smallwood

    Why does this not surprise me … Al Gore , The Inconvenint Goof !

  • Posted by Kelly H

    While I agree that Al Jazeera English could make more clear on their website that they are owned by the government of Qatar, I think that the argument that Al Jazeera should make clear who they are owned by by renaming their network is slightly ridiculous. There are many networks that are owned by governments that do not indicate so in their titles whom are considered to be good sources of news. Take, for example, the US Government’s own Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which broadcasts in countries who have little press freedom. Not only does it not indicate from the network’s title that Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty is run by the American government, it also says NOWHERE on RFE/RL’s website that it is a US government-run production.

    Now, I do think that networks SHOULD be transparent about who owns them, but I don’t think the problem of media bias occurs merely when a government owns a network! CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC, to give a few examples, also have their own bias and their own agendas, because they are for-profit media networks! So by your logic, they should also be made to carry a “little warning label” to viewers.

    As I said before, I agree with some of your arguments, but I think there is also a double standard being applied in a lot of the statements made thus far in the media about Al Jazeera’s purchase of Current TV that needs to be considered, as well.

  • Posted by Elliott Abrams

    Just a correction of Mr. Kelly on RFE/RL: its web site says “RFE/RL, Inc. is a private, nonprofit corporation, funded by the U.S. Congress through the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).” So the government funding is clear.

  • Posted by Allen Roth

    As General Colin once said in response to Al Jezeera’s coverage, “When a particular outlet, Al-Jazeera, does such a horrible job presenting the news, and when it takes every opportunity to slant the news, present it in the most outrageous way, then we have to speak out…”

    Al-Jezeera’s “slant” was endangering American lives.

  • Posted by soiniciulacht

    Is FOX a news network? It is not allowed to broadcast in the UK, Al Jazeera is; it’s on the dial right next to Russia Today, CNN, SKY, BBC….

    By far the greatest threat to independent news is the increasing takeover of news media by corporate and overwhelmingly right-leaning proprietors with the attacks on PBS in the US and the BBC in the UK because they are outwith the control of advertisers and private sector ownership.

  • Posted by cloudbuster

    “…the greatest threat to independent news is the increasing takeover of news media by corporate and overwhelmingly right-leaning proprietors.”

    Really? Do you realize that virtually all U.S. media is and always has been owned by “corporate proprietors” and only a tiny minority can be described in any sense as “right-leaning” (as if there’s something more sinister — heh — about right-leaning corporations than left-leaning ones)?

  • Posted by Alex F

    “…the greatest threat to independent news is the increasing takeover of news media by corporate and overwhelmingly right-leaning proprietors.”

    Also worth mentioning is both Al Gore’s and the Qatari Royal Family’s financial incentive in promoting a clean energy agenda in the US. Al Gore has millions invested in clean energy companies (and has greatly profited of such investments since Obama came to power with his green energy agenda), while Qatar is one of the world’s biggest exporters of LNG and therefore has strong interest in trying to prevent the US from becoming a major LNG exporter in light of our recently found abundance of natural gas. Crony capitalism and left-leaning proprietors sound like much greater threats to me.

  • Posted by Vox Clams

    This is not very complicated. The Qatar government has just made a rather hefty investment in Al Gore and his useless network in order to attempt to kill fracking and keep the US dependent on Mideast oil, at high prices to boot. And although he held out for a high price, Al Gore has a fondness for large sums of cash and Qatar was able to meet his price for selling out. I have not run the numbers, but I suspect that Nike paid less for Michael Jordan than Qatar paid for Al Gore.

    The good news is that Al Gore’s new nickname rhymes!

  • Posted by soiniciulacht

    There used to be a much wider spread of ownership and I believe both the US and the UK changed their media laws to allow Murdoch to take over domestic networks.

    Where is this ‘left-leaning’ media ownership? Walmart, Amazon, Microsoft, Walgreen, Exxon Mobil, Astra Zeneca, BP, Astria, Google…… and hundreds of other corporations are party to organisations such as the American legislative Exchange Council where they meet with their bought and paid for Republican politicians where are the exposes of this huge corrupt conspiracy? (One of the ALEC Task forces actually has European and other politicians helping shape US Federal laws!)

    Where is the outcry over Murdoch offering to fund Petraeus if he wanted to go for the Presidency or do American citizens think that a foreigner taking such an interest in their domestic politics is acceptable?

    The media get special privileges to hold power to account not to take control of the reins for themselves.

  • Posted by Daniel

    Apparently you have never watched any US media or read the Times, Washington Post, LA Times, Chicago Tribune, Time, etc
    Unless of course your comment is meant as a joke.
    On second thought, you must be joking!

  • Posted by Alasdair

    Al Gore-zeera sounds like yet another sort-of-Arabic version of the Kaiju (monster) named Gojira (Japanese), then Godzilla (English) …

    Ironic, ain’t it ?

  • Posted by Maritza

    Good post. I learn something new and challenging on sites I stumbleupon
    on a daily basis. It’s always useful to read articles from other writers and use something from their websites.

  • Posted by Jonh

    Al Jazeera is a mouthpiece for Qatars regime.

  • Posted by online winkel

    Heya i am for the first time here. I came across this board and I in finding It really useful & it helped me out a lot.

    I hope to give one thing again and help others like you helped me.

  • Posted by how do i make money Online

    Thanks designed for sharing such a pleasant idea, piece of writing is good, thats why
    i have read it entirely

Post a Comment

CFR seeks to foster civil and informed discussion of foreign policy issues. Opinions expressed on CFR blogs are solely those of the author or commenter, not of CFR, which takes no institutional positions. All comments must abide by CFR's guidelines and will be moderated prior to posting.

* Required