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Millennium Post

Al Jazeera’s fluctuating fortunes

Saudi Arabia and Qatar fell out because they supported conflicting interests primarily in Egypt. Elsewhere too – Turkey, Jordan, Syria, Gaza (Hamas). But their coming together in any case was for limited tactical reasons: to stall the Arab Spring. The big asset the Qataris brought to the union, hurriedly put together, was the incomparable credibility of their TV channel, Al Jazeera.
Qatar launched Al Jazeera, initially only in Arabic. Later, superior retirees from the BBC like Sir  David Frost were enlisted to launch its English service.

In February 1991, a year after the collapse of the Soviet Union, CNN inaugurated the era of global TV by covering Operation Desert Storm, bringing to the world’s drawing rooms, on live TV, the defeat of an Arab country. The BBC World Service TV was launched in April of that year. If a nation is at war, its media will automatically become part of the war effort. Since, the US and its allies have been in a state of conflict almost continuously since Operation Desert Storm, BBC and CNN have had to pay a price for their unbroken spell of patriotism. Their credibility has plummeted, particularly in Muslim countries.

Even when the US or NATO were not involved in a conflict, the sanitised coverage of, say, the Bosnian war or the two Intefadas impacted differently on Muslim and non-Muslim audiences worldwide. Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilisations would have remained a dark prophecy had the global media, BBC and CNN, not excavated deep along the civilizational fault lines to give it credence. After 9/11, and the manner in which the war on terror was conducted and covered, divided the world totally. It was during this period that the Muslim Brotherhood grew exponentially in Egypt; Nekmetin Arbakan’s Islamist Refah party came to power in Turkey. The Kemalist army snuffed him out, just as the Egyptian army has snuffed out Mohamed Morsi. Teyyep Erdogan and Abdullah Gul are Arbakan’s spiritual descendents but packaged for a secular, Kemalist constitution. On them later.

Much more than the one sided coverage of conflicts, the anger among Muslims was on account of a suffocating absence from their TV screens of views they could identify with. This was an enormous gap which Al Jazeera stepped in to fill. The channel’s credibility was sky high when it telecast Osama bin Laden’s taped interviews. This kind of ‘scooping’ was so totally against the current that a question mark did stick to its image.
Just when Al Jazeera’s partisan coverage in Libya, Syria and in Egypt caused it to barter away the hard earned credibility it had built up since 1996, new avenues have opened up for the channel in
the West.
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