Rights groups condemn ‘cowardly censorship’ bid over Al Jazeera

By   /   June 24, 2017  /   14 Comments

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“The attack on Al Jazeera is part of an assault on free speech to subvert the impact of old and new media in the Arab world. It should be condemned and resisted.” One of many global media responses.


The 13-point demand list – including “close down” Al Jazeera, “the voice of the voiceless”.

Republished from Pacific Media Watch, sourced from Al Jazeera English — see video below.

Press freedom and human rights advocates, journalists and social media users have condemned a demand by Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries to shut Al Jazeera television network and other media outlets in Qatar.

The Arab states reportedly issued a 13-point list on Friday, demanding the closure of all news outlets that it funds, directly and indirectly, including Arabi21, Rassd, Al Araby Al Jadeed, Mekameleen and Middle East Eye.

“The revolution has now been televised – TNX Al Jazeera.” Image: Crowd Act

“We are really worried about the implication and consequences of such requirements if they will ever be implemented,” said Alexandra El Khazen, head of Middle East and North Africa desk at Reporters Without Borders, a non-profit organisation promoting press freedom.

Speaking to Al Jazeera from Paris, Khazen said: “We are against any kind of censorship and measures that could threaten the diversity in the Arab media landscape and pluralism, for instance.

“The Arabic media landscape should make room and accept the broadest range of viewpoints instead of adopting repressive measures against alternative viewpoints that are found to be critical of some governments.”

Khazen also expressed concern over the impact of the demands on the employees of the mentioned media outlets.

“Some of them may come under pressure to resign or to choose to do so to be aligned with the policy of their country, so we are currently investigating this,” she said.

Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of the Middle East and North Africa Division at Human Rights Watch, called the Saudi-led bloc’s demand “absurd”.

“This is just an attempted expansion of the cowardly censorship they have inflicted on their own citizens, but it will fail,” she said.

‘Monstrous request’
Tim Dawson, president of the UK’s National Union of Journalists, expressed his “absolute horror” in reaction to what he called a “monstrous request” and urged the Saudi government to withdraw the demands.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) also condemned “the use of news outlets as a bargaining chip” and “urged all countries involved in this dispute to stop holding media hostage” to political differences.

“The Gulf region needs a vibrant free press and news outlets based there must be allowed to report freely,” said Joel Simon, the executive director of CPJ.

Meanwhile, The Guardian criticised the efforts to silence Al Jazeera as “wrong” and “ridiculous”.

“The attack on Al Jazeera is part of an assault on free speech to subvert the impact of old and new media in the Arab world. It should be condemned and resisted,” the UK-based newspaper said in an editorial.

“We are stunned by the demand to close Al Jazeera,” Giles Trendle, the acting managing director of Al Jazeera English, said.

“Of course there has been talk about it in the past but it is still a great shock and surprise to actually see it in writing. It’s as absurd as it would be for Germany to demand Britain close the BBC.”

Trendle said Al Jazeera was going to continue its “editorial mission of covering the world news in a fair and balanced way”.

“We call on all governments to respect media freedom. We hope other media organisations will support our call to defend media freedom,” he added.

Roots in Arab Spring
Trendle said the roots of the demand to close Al Jazeera went back to 2011 and the Arab Spring.

“At that time, Al Jazeera was covering the dreams and the aspirations of a new generation of people. We provided the platform for the voice of the man and the woman in the Arab streets. We were covering those protests and we were providing a diversity of viewpoints. We were really the voice of the voiceless. I think there are some regimes in the region that don’t appreciate that diversity of views. I think that’s the reason for what’s going on here.”

Yaser Abuhilalah, director of Al Jazeera Arabic, called the demand to shut Al Jazeera a crime violating freedom of speech.

“I am against demands to close any media outlet, because it is a crime, a violation of basic human rights to freedom of speech,” Abuhilalah told Sputnik.

“If Al Jazeera violated something, anyone could sue it – in a Qatari court or in [a court of] any other country, it is the legitimate right of every person harmed by the media. But the demand to close [Al Jazeera] is a crime.”

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt severed relations with Qatar on June 5, accusing it of supporting “terrorism”. Qatar has denied the allegation.

Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani has said that Al Jazeera Media Network was an “internal affair” and there would be no discussion about the fate of the Doha-based broadcaster amid the Gulf crisis.

Curbing of citizens
To stem the flow of negative reactions, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain took steps to curb their citizens from expressing opinions that opposed their policies.

The UAE announced that any objections to the UAE’s strict measures against the government of Qatar or expression of sympathy with Qatar would be a crime punishable by a prison sentence of 3-15 years and a fine of no less than US$136,000 (500,000AED), whether on a social media platform or via any written or spoken medium.

The criminalisation of sympathy with Qatar was implemented in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain with slight differences in the length of prison sentences and size of fines.

Khazen said the decision to punish citizens was a “huge violation of freedom of speech and information that could have serious implications”.

Al Jazeera reporters have often come under fire, with Egypt imprisoning Arabic reporter Mahmoud Hussein, who has been in jail for 185 days for “disseminating false news and receiving monetary funds from foreign authorities in order to defame the state’s reputation”.

Al Jazeera’s Baher Mohamed and Mohamed Fahmy spent 437 days in jail before being released. Australian journalist Peter Greste spent more than a year in prison in Egypt.

Al Jazeera is the only free-to-air global news channel available on New Zealand’s Freeview platform.

Al Jazeera responds to the ‘siege against journalism’

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About the author

Dr David Robie

Professor at AUT University

Dr David Robie is professor of journalism and director of AUT University’s Pacific Media Centre. He is a strong advocate of independent media at the country’s journalism schools. David has published the media transparency blog Café Pacific since 2006. - See More

14 Comments

  1. J Lamont says:

    Al Jazeera hanging by a thread – it would be a tragedy if we in NZ could no

    longer rely on it for international news given the inability/unwillingness of

    NZ MSM to cover world politics in any meaningful way.

    • Patrick says:

      Totally political.
      Al Jazeera supported Arab Spring so Egypt have aligned themselves with the other Arab states.
      They also don’t like Qatar’s friendly relations with Iran completely overlooking the fact that Qatar and Iran share a gas reserve – which, incidentally, fuels the Emirates.
      But have to say it’s totally hypocritical for the Daily Blog to rail against censorship.

      [Patrick, we have published your comment. If you disagree with our publication policy you are free to set up your own forum. – Scarletmod ]

      • Patrick says:

        Thank you Scarlet. I don’t want my own forum but am against all forms of censorship in the media – except bad language as I don’t believe the f word adds to any debate.
        I was merely expressing my surprise that this Forum purports to be against it too.

        • Danyl Strype says:

          Implying that TDB moderating comments is “censorship” is like claiming that you choosing not to invite a homeless person home is “murder”. You’re not stopping them existing anywhere, you’re just choosing not to have them exist in your space. Same same with comment moderation.

  2. Danyl Strype says:

    Just as well we have the US bringing democracy to the middle east. They’ll soon bring world of hurt and regime change to these free speech criminalizers in Saudi Arabia. Oh…wait…

  3. Al Jazeera today, Radio NZ, BBC, RT News, FOX TV, CNN, et al tomorrow?

    These are worrying times.

  4. Mike in Auckland says:

    All these developments appear to be taking place at a time, which is just shortly after one President Donald Trump went to Riyad for a two or three day set of meetings with the Saudi and other royals and their lackeys. Trump also signed a massive arms deal with the Saudis.

    I remember someone in the media commenting that Trump had basically left it to the Saudis and their allies to deal with terrorists and their enemies as they see fit.

    Now we have this bizarre focus on Qatar, while all others pretend to be nothing like innocent actors in the Middle East.

    Is it not strange that Qatar has been singled out by other GCC members, facing unreasonable pressure, total isolation and unfounded accusations, and unreasonable demands, such as to close down Al Jazeera.

    This all is too much of a coincidence, far too much of a coincidence.

    Trump is in my view encouraging the Saudis and close allies to deal to Iran, and that may mean war, and as the Saudis are not happy about Al Jazeera, they want to silence them, for a start, so their corrupt regime can continue ruling as it pleases.

    • Patrick says:

      Donald Trump apparently gets on very well with the Saudi’s.They even have the same garish tastes in furnishings and interior decor.
      I spent a couple of hours yesterday with a couple who have lived in the Eremites for 10 years. They gave me the rundown on middle east politics, which, as they pointed out, are very difficult to comprehend unless you live there.
      They are selling their property there and moving to Singapore as they don’t like developments.

  5. Philg says:

    If only we could get the US version of RT on free to air as they have many excellent programs presenting an alternative narrative. It would not be allowed by our current regime/government. Too much trouble for the establishment.

    • I’d like RT News, BBC, Fox News, and CNN.

      I don’t know when I’d be getting any sleep, but there’d be no excuse for not being well-informed!

      • Danyl Strype says:

        Wouldn’t it be great if we have a news roundup presented by a public broadcaster that aggregates the best pieces from all the sources Frank lists and more? Oh… wait… we had one of those, until the current regime turned it into a commercialized sewer.

  6. Kim dandy says:

    @ j Lamont – don’t give our current corrupt lying government any ideas please.

  7. countryboy says:

    Oh God/Gods/Whatsits !

    Do you know? I have no idea what I’d do with good news.
    Blood, guts, misery… abortion, murder, addiction.
    And I’m one of the worst at it.
    I woke up this morning and said hello to my dog. She responded, as dogs do, with a cheery ,sniffy, waggy scratchy thing and she does then there’s that sort of kick start her motorbike thing with her back foot as I pat her silly, fluffy head part. I stalked the toilet as I arranged my testicles for the day. I slouched to the kettle and cursed the toaster because the bastard either underburns things or overburns things. It’s like I’m married to the fucker. I should either learn to shut up and take it or throw it out. Has anyone left home because of irreconcilable differences with ones toaster? I don’t remember taking vows with it. “ Do you take this toaster to be your lawful wedded thing which either burns , or doesn’t burn your muffins? “ ( Is that Freudian??)
    I guess the truth is, is that bad news is cool, whereas good news is just a bit insipid. The only people I’ve met who spout good news are God botherers and boy, is He/She/It going to get His/Her/It’s own back when they kick the bucket. “ Fuck off ! You’re always talking! I’m trying to build worlds populated with annoying fuckers like you over here…. Oh? Wait…? “
    The phrase “The author of ones own demise?” is thus begat.
    Ooooh…. I want some good news man?
    I.E.
    Trump outs himself as Gay. Makes Gay guys go straight! A miracle says the poofy old pope. Worlds money found under netenyahoo’s bed. Global economy’s now stable but watch you don’t trip over the piss pot! Guns now only shoot ecstasy pills ! People begging to be shot at. john key and bill english found in bed together smoking Pot while watching Scandinavian cooking shows. Global Chilling is the new Global Warming, so chill the fuck out! Diesel/petrol fumes are good for you. Eat more lead. Plus side of nuclear pollution, three headed babies a boon for spectacle industry! Cholera heralded as new dieting fad! Cow farts makes plants grow! Flatulent cow industry booming, both literally and figuratively. Waste more, it’s good for you to throw things out because, more room for more things. Buy a cat. Good company and edible. Animal species are in decline but so what. What have they ever done for us? Sausages and bacon!? Yum!

  8. esoteric pineapples says:

    Here’s an excellent interview on what is going on between Saudi Arabia and Qatar

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pnZTx9fFimY&feature=share