The Arabian Gulf is a home to several Arab countries that are closely knit in terms of geopolitical connectivity, ethnicity and religion. This particular bloc of nations is not only rich in natural resources but given the past few years, they have become active in regional and international politics on an unprecedented level. In terms of security and regional harmony, the countries have sustained through most of the Arab Spring’s toughest phase and the leaders of this bloc documented support for each other through out. Despite the seemingly peaceful atmosphere, serious concerns had been hiding under the rug, one of which has entered the start of its second week.
One out of the ten reported demands sent by the countries that severed ties with Qatar was the closure of Al-Jazeera network.
Qatar is not only facing a diplomatic crisis but an economic blockade led by Saudi Arabia and seven neighbors. Soon after the US President Trump had addressed the leaders of the Muslim world in a summit and later in a separate meeting with the GCC rulers in Riyadh, Doha was met with questions and accusations that ultimately led to a political layoff. Objections were made on Doha and Tehran’s relationship followed by demands to expel Hamas members and cutting off support to Muslim brotherhood and alleged terrorists’ organizations. Among the GCC states, Qatar maintains one of the most advanced media industry with lower censorship records. Viewership of Qatar’s state owned television network was taken over by Al- Jazeera after the Arabic news and current affairs’ channel expanded its network. With the launch of Al-Jazeera English, the network crossed the borders to far west and established itself as a mouthpiece to counter reports from major western channels including Fox News, BBC and CNN. One out of the ten reported demands sent by the countries that severed ties with Qatar was the closure of Al-Jazeera network. The channel had become vociferous on multiple issues in and around the Middle East, and its reporting became a force to be reckoned with.
Al-Jazeera Effect in play:
The popularity of Al- Jazeera English stirred a different level of political discourse throughout the global media. With English now being a direct language of communication and a means through which information could be disseminated, the channel became a source of information for many western media outlets. As opposed to the teachings and understanding of conventional international politics, media in the modern world has become a driving force in global politics and conflict. Considered as a parallel theory to the “CNN Effect “, the “Al-Jazeera Effect” established itself as an expanded version of its counterpart. The theory incorporates all means of communication and information, its impact on global affairs and the rise of “virtual states” leading to the restructuring of world politics. Modern media can act as a catalyst for sustaining peace or be used to ignite a conflict. Seib suggests in his book that “ Al-Jazeera Effect” is “reshaping the world politics” and that the “battle for hearts and minds in the Middle East is being fought on the news desks of Al-Jazeera”.
Considered as a parallel theory to the “CNN Effect “, the “Al-Jazeera Effect” established itself as an expanded version of its counterpart. The theory incorporates all means of communication and information, its impact on global affairs and the rise of “virtual states” leading to the restructuring of world politics.
But, why actually is Al-Jazeera caught in between the recent hostility in the Gulf? The answer lies back in flame of Arab Spring and the channel’s “uncut” reporting on the issues of Palestine. During the Arab Spring, Al-Jazeera’s extensive coverage angered the Arab leaders as it provided a platform to the people to question their governments and their policies. Since most of the news channels in the Gulf countries are under strict government control, Al-Jazeera seized the opportunity to provide the viewers authentic news and expressions of the people. Despite the heavy criticism on its creditability, the channel pulled through and remained resilient. The Arab Spring was on the brink of reaching the Gulf States, including Saudi Arabia, making media outlets such as Al-Jazeera an enemy of the Arab leaders. After the Spring subdued, the channel continued to cover the outcome and arrests that followed, but did not face a demand to be shut down by any government until now. Al-Jazeera’s coverage of Trump’s Middle East visit was considered as propaganda by the KSA led bloc to disrupt ties between the two countries and the Arab leaders in general alongside being a platform used by certain groups. The channel has been vocal on issues such as Yemen and possible ties of many Arab leaders with Israel. The channel has been accused of faking news and insulting the GCC leaders in its extensive coverage. The journalistic practices of Al-Jazeera challenge the practices and professionalism of other GCC media outlets that face government censorship, and involuntarily counters the narratives of Al-Arabiya. The boom in Al-Jazeera’s viewership after the launch of its English news channel had a great impact on breaking Al-Arabiya’s monopoly over information and news that mostly suited the agenda of the leaders.
The journalistic practices of Al-Jazeera challenge the practices and professionalism of other GCC media outlets that face government censorship, and involuntarily counters the narratives of Al-Arabiya.
As the theory explains the influence of media in reshaping world politics, the demand to shut down the Al-Jazeera network by KSA and others, proves that media coverage, discussion and exposure in terms of information can be perceived as a threat by the leaders of a country. Al-Jazeera English did help in creating Qatar’s soft image in the world but by no means did the channel spare its own government of frequent criticism.
Joining the Dots:
Hypothetically, it is not the physical media that is directly involved in conflicts but the information it projects towards the viewers. In case of Al-Jazeera English, the channel despite being labeled as biased; is only doing the job of a “watchdog”, and provides a different perspective in a region prone to strict media and internet censorship. The stipulate to completely silence Al-Jazeera has been rejected by Doha along with other accusations made against it. The Al-Jazeera Effect did not come into play till it received unintentional recognition in the current Gulf crisis. The attempt to confront Al-Jazeera on the alleged accusations shows that the media indeed had an impact on Arab politics, the pros and cons of which would form a separate debate based on country to country where Al-Jazeera is or was being broadcasted. Secondly, calling for the closure of the entire Al-Jazeera network indicates the intolerant response by the Arab leaders who are accustomed to building favorable narratives by keeping a control over information in their countries.
The demand highlights that Qatar’s crisis is not just politically driven but also seeks to isolate Doha’s soft power vis-à-vis accusing the channel of journalistic misconduct and as a tool of propaganda. Advocates of media freedom called the demand to shutdown Al-Jazeera as unfair and that it lacked evidence of Al-Jazeera’s involment in the claimed defamation by the leaders. With the current situation in the Gulf and the case of Qatar’s isolation, it is imperative to understand the power of or the use of media in modern day conflicts. The network’s evolution from an Arabic news and current affairs’ channel into a self explanatory theory showing its effects on ground is a case to be looked into. Attack on journalism or media within the countries is not rare but it is not often when a bloc of states puts forward demands that include seizing an entire network. Currently, Al-Jazeera continues to operate from Doha but has been taken down from broadcasting in the countries boycotting Qatar. The situation is yet to see a breakthrough and normalization of ties but this however, also set an alarming precedent for future policies of a state and its foreign policy, where other states could cut ties solely based on media reports of the country. Could freedom of media cost states diplomatic isolation in future and do such demands defy the respect for the sovereignty of a state?