Since the beginning of June, there has been a brewing diplomatic crisis in the Middle East as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and United Arab Emirates cut off diplomatic relations with Qatar, accusing the latter of sponsoring terrorism.
Many other reasons have been posited as being responsible for this crisis, such as Qatar’s increasingly growing friendliness with Iran; it has also sparked a flurry of efforts by other countries such as the United States to repair the relations between the countries. It is to this end that the Saudi-led bloc submitted a list of 13 demands to be carried out in 10 days before relations can be restored.
It is shocking that one of the demands includes that Qatar shuts down the Al Jazeera news network which it funds, and also all affiliates and other news networks such as Arabi21, Rassd, Al Araby Al Jadeed and Middle East Eye.
This demand amounts to an attack on the media and the right to freedom of expression of not only the Qatari government but to all people of the world.
In the 20 years of the existence of Al Jazeera, the network has expanded media coverage in a region that has been under-covered and also provided alternate perspectives to events and happenings in that region and the world. This has been instrumental to helping consumers of news to form more rounded views of issues.
Like every media house, it undoubtedly has its opinions and its slant to the news; definitely, opinions are hardly ever accepted by everyone. However, to demand its shutting down because its opinions are not favourable to the countries currently opposed to Qatar is an attempt to silence the freedom of expression in the region and to suppress people’s right to information and the right to be heard.
Since the Arab Spring, Al Jazeera has been haunted and attacked by governments uncomfortable with its views, such as the numerous arrests and detentions of its journalists in Egypt on trumped-up charges. This demand to shut down the network is an escalation of the efforts to clamp down on it and the media in general.
If this demand ends up being followed, it will provide a template for governments to use the media houses of rival countries as pawns in diplomatic tussles in order to silence opinions unlike theirs or to force favourable opinions.
This scenario will not just be to the detriment of the media houses and the countries, but to the whole world as it deprives us of various perspectives and viewpoints which we can use to have more robust debates in order to solve challenges.
Qatar must not succumb to this demand to shut down its media outlets.