By Elie Chalala. Press reports claim that Qatari capital acquired Al Quds Al Arabi: if so, can Al Quds readers expect the same intellectual disrespect as Al Jazeera viewers got on June 30th? I must admit that I am not and never was a follower of Abdel Bari Atwan’s columns for Al Quds Al Arabi, especially his writing on Arafat, Kaddafi, Saddam and, of course, Osama Bin Laden.
But I appreciate his journalistic attitude by allowing a range of diverse writers to contribute, namely columns by Amjad Nasser, Subhi Hadidi and few others. And I am sad to see the man leave, “bought out” of his own newspaper after a quarter century of hard work.
I always wondered how he could manage the business. The paper’s advertisements, subscriptions and its newsstand sales couldn’t have covered the costs of a daily publication. It was rumored Arafat, Saddam and Kaddafi financed much of the newspaper in the past. This rumor is not meant to debase the quality of his work, as his rivals are similarly supported by various Arab governments.
The real surprise, at least for me, was that Al Quds Al Arabi was funded, in part or fully, by Qatar. Again, this could be a malicious rumor like all others that go back to the 1990s. Assuming that Qatar funds Al Quds, my hope is that it will not suffer a similar fate to Al Jazeera.
If the rumor is true, June 30th is very relevant to Atwan’s departure of Al Quds. I am not alluding to the issue of capital and control over media in the Arab world. Rather, I am concerned with how Qatari control of Al Jazeera insulted the intelligence of millions of the network’s viewers. I dread the day I wake up to find the same happening to Al Quds.
I have been actively keeping tabs on a host of Arab and non-Arab satellite networks prior to and following the start of the Arab Spring. What happened in Al Jazeera’s newsroom on June 30th was unique; the news it broadcasted that day was contrary to most sources, and more importantly, contrary to the expectations of its loyal viewers, viewers who took its stories to heart following the Syrian revolution. One might ask: why is it a “big deal” if a TV station switches its bias? The easy answer that Al Jazeera is not just any station like Hezbollah’s Manar or Lebanon Speaker’s NBN or General Michel Aoun’s OTV. Al Jazeera is an institution founded in 1996 and distinguished itself as champion of certain pan-Islamic and pan-Arab causes. Despite my misgivings, it maintained certain level of credibility up until now. I have no illusion about the network’s policies. I have published and written articles both critiquing and admiring of the Qatari network; the latest was a laudatory piece about its coverage of the Syrian revolution, in which I took issue with the network’s detractors.
At the moral and political level, “what’s the big deal” attitude is condescending not to mention disrespectful of the network’s viewers. Such an attitude is the trademark of the Assad regime and his supported media, in Syria and Lebanon. Yet another answer deals with information technology: Is Al Jazeera, a technologically advanced media source, naive to think its viewers would overlook the disparate coverage of Egypt? I am aware of the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and between Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya, and equally aware that Qatar supports Egypt’s Morsi, and Saudi Arabia supports the anti-Morsi opposition, but does the management of Al Jazeera really believe their faulty coverage of Egypt on June 30th would best serve the network? Today’s viewers and readers, especially those of Al Jazeera, are not the average viewers and readers of the 1980s and even 1990s, unable to discern propaganda from real news. Many factors have empowered the new viewer, foremost of which is technology. Moreover, Al Jazeera’s audience has access to a lot more news sites over the internet to verify the real story.
I wish Abdel Bari Atwan the best of luck in his post-Al Quds Al Arabi career. But I also wish that Al Quds’s readers will be taken seriously by Qatar and to be treated with greater respect than the viewers of Al Jazeera were given on June 30th.
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