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Bahrain abolishes information ministry 10, July 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Al-Jazeera, Bahrain.
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Bahrain has announced that it is abolishing its information ministry. Ordinarily, this is a good sign of loosening of press censorship.

Qatar, for example, used the abolition of its information ministry in 1995 to signal a shift in the country’s view of news coverage. Along with the foundation of Al Jazeera, this act was widely seen as Qatar eschewing a staid, authoritarian mindset and entering the twenty-first century. True, Qatar’s domestic press is tame and decidedly uninvestigative, but at least Qatar has some mostly free media in the country.

Indeed, this relatively free media – Al Jazeera – recently ran a story on poverty in Bahrain which prompted their expulsion from Manama. This is hardly an auspicious omen coming in the weeks before it decides to get rid of its information ministry. So, unless there has been some paradigm shift in attitudes in Bahrain – which there hasn’t – this abolition, like in the UAE and to a lesser extent in Qatar, is more of a PR change than a real signal of changing attitudes to press censorship.

Brace yourself: Fox News comes to the Middle East 7, July 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Al-Jazeera, American ME Relations, Media in the ME.
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Rupert Murdoch, the owner of the ‘fair and balanced’ [sic] news channel Fox News is to open a Middle East station in conjunction with Saudi’s Prince Alwaleed bin Talal.

Fox News, famous for its uncomplicated, gun-ho and pro-Israel stance whilst maintaining a mocking notion of neutrality, does not seem like a likely partner. Their coverage of Middle Eastern issues is far from renowned or competent. Expect flashy, glitzy sets; female Lebanese anchors [probably the ones that left Al Jazeera last month] wearing an inch of makeup and simple coverage of complicated issues.

Their main competition is Al Jazeera and Al Arabiyya.

The former was started in the mid-1990s by Qatar to – essentially – promote themselves. It was a revelation in the region: it discussed sensitive issues in an open and candid manner never seen before in the Arab world. This garnered Al Jazeera and Qatar enemies throughout the region who believed that Al Jazeera was acting as a provocative mouth-piece of Qatar’s Foreign Ministry. Saudi and Bahrain in particular felt that Al Jazeera ‘picked on’ them significantly in the early years. The Saudi Ambassador returned to Doha in 2008 after a 4 year Al Jazeera inspired absence and since then Al Jazeera’s coverage has calmed. Only last month Bahrain banned Al Jazeera from Manama after, it is believed, unfavourable coverage of poverty in the country. Egypt is also perpetually angered by Al Jazeera.

The latter was begun by Saudi Arabia as an alternative to Al Jazeera. Despite looking similar in a modern, Western, professional, CNN style, its coverage is far less controversial and really quite tame.

Al Jazeera sues Egypt’s Al Ahram 6, July 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Al-Jazeera, American ME Relations.
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The perpetual battle between Qatar’s Al Jazeera and various other Middle Eastern media outlets has taken another twist.

A Qatari daily reports that Al Jazeera has filed lawsuits against Egypt’s Al Ahram for “false and distorted reports” relating to coverage of the resignation of five Al Jazeera female presenters. They are demanding £5 million damages.

Memri further reports that Al Ahram’s owners along with other Egyptian papers criticised the story in an attempt to fend off Al Jazeera’s suits, to no apparent avail.

5 female Al Jazeera anchors resign 31, May 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Al-Jazeera.
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At least five female presenters of Al Jazeera’s Arabic news have resigned. Numerous reasons are mooted for this (relatively) mass exodus. The most prominent reason (seriously…) appears to be (no, really…) issues relating to their clothes and make-up (honestly…). This could be (and I sincerely hope that this is), however, some kind of ‘muddying of the waters’, so to speak, to camouflage more serious issues.

Other rumors suggest that the grievances are more to do with:

  • “the imposition of one political and ideological view” in the newsroom i.e. ‘Islamist’-type views
  • Cumulative “unprofessional policies” over several years
  • Harassment

The anchors in question are Julnar Moussa, Jumana Nammour, Lona Ashibl, Lina Zahreddine, Nawfar Ali. Several others are also voicing their support so that number could well rise.

Al Jazeera’s contentious ‘poverty in Bahrain’ reports 28, May 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Al-Jazeera, Bahrain, Qatar.
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Here are the contentious Al Jazeera videos on poverty in Bahrain that some say is the cause of the recent Qatari-Bahraini issues.

Al Jazeera move into Balkans 5, April 2010

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The National reports that Al Jazeera news international are seeking to expand into the Balkans. They are in the process of buying Studio 99, a TV and radio station in financial difficulties based in Sarajevo. Reports suggest that Al Jazeera will pay roughly £150,000 for the station, which they are expected to use as a regional base.

This is, as The National point out, but a part of Al Jazeera’s recent expansion.

– July 2009 – Al Jazeera finally break into the US market

– November 2009 – Al Jazeera bought Arab Radio and Television, unequivocally making it the Middle East and North Africa’s biggest sports broadcaster.

This news will find a mixed reception in the West. Some view Al Jazeera as something of an insidious propaganda machine spreading extremism, whereas others take a more moderate view.

Hat Tip: ML

Qatar and Iran to launch satellite 22, March 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Al-Jazeera, Egypt, Iran.
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MEMRI reports that Iran and Qatar are to launch a satellite together primarily to compete with Egypt’s Nilesat. This stems from a recent decision imposed on Egyptian broadcast networks to stop broadcasting Iran’s Al Alam TV channel to the Arab world. If this venture succeeds (a sizable ‘if’ I’d have thought) Al Alam will once again flood the airwaves smearing Iranian soft power insidiously into the crevices of the Arab World, as Mubarak might put it.

Playboy played on children’s TV & Al J’s birth 18, March 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Al-Jazeera, Qatar.
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There is some consternation in the US at the moment after TV directors mistakenly played Playboy adult TV adverts during children’s programmes last week. Apparently, parents were none too pleased. The reason that I mention this on thegulfblog.com is that a very similar thing happened back in the mid-90s without which Al Jazeera, the Arab world’s most popular TV channel, would not have been able to get off the ground.

[Please excuse my vagueness at times as I can’t remember the technical terminology involved and I don’t have the source book with me right now.]

When Al Jazeera was originally broadcast it was only available to a relatively small number of people. This was because there is only a finite amount of ‘bandwidth’ for all TV channels and there simply was not the space for Al Jazeera. However, fortuitously – so to speak – a TV station broadcasting in Saudi Arabia (of all places…) accidentally broadcast what I seem to remember being described as really rather hard-core pornography during the day during children’s TV shows. Need I say that this really did not go down too well in the Kingdom of the Two Holy Mosques. The upshot was that the TV station in question (French or Italian, I think…) had its license and ergo ‘bandwidth’ stripped away freeing up otherwise rare ‘large scale’ bandwidth necessary for Al Jazeera to reach a far wider audience.

Twitter not instrumental in Green Movement? 23, February 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Al-Jazeera, Iran.
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A recent Al Jazeera study sought to dispel the notion that Twitter was instrumental in the organization and popularization of Iran’s Green Movement. The head of new media at the Doha based news organization concluded that there were less than 60 twitterers in Tehran at the time. This number subsequently fell to only 6 owing to subsequent media restrictions. Such a conclusion would be a blow to those that trumpeted the social networking revolution provoking near revolution in Iran.

However, before any firm conclusions can be drawn, the role of Tor and similar proxy redirecting servers needs to be evaluated. These services reroute ISP addresses redirecting traffic through foreign servers instead. Whilst I am no technological whizz, I don’t quite see how Al Jazeera could have taken this into account. The whole point of Tor is, after all, to keep the original ISP address (ergo its country of origin) a secret. I am willing, however, to be corrected…

Hat tip: Abu Aadrvark

Iran’s TV channel taken off Arab satellite 11, January 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Al-Jazeera, Media in the ME.
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(Go to 10:23 for the relevant clip)

Two of the Arab world’s biggest satellite broadcasting companies, Nilesat and Arabsat, have taken the Iranian channel Alaam of the air for breach of contract. Needless to say, no specific, verifiable breach has been mentioned. It doesn’t take much of an imagination or much understanding of the Middle East to believe that this was done for political reasons and that this ‘breach of contract’ business is but the laziest of covers. Hezbollah, for example, Iran’s proxy, have come out and decried this change, citing political pressures.

In numerous fields, Arab Sunni states such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia have, for years now (or for centuries in different ‘formats’), been engaged in what can broadly be described as a cold conflict with Iran/Persia. Occasionally this conflict bubbles to the surface in, say, the form of the Iran-Iraq war or even verbal jostling as to the name of the Gulf separating the Arabian Peninsula from modern-day Iran. Alaam must be seen in this context. As a font of Iranian soft power, broadcasting Iran’s point of view across the Arab world directly into homes.

This kerfuffle is reminiscent of many Arab states’ outrage at Radio Cairo’s pan-Arab exalting, Arab monarchy decrying broadcasts during Nasser’s pomp. These were believed to incite the local populations against their rulers, advocating Nasser’s wholesome, brotherly and lofty pan-Arab ideals against, for example, the morally corrupt, Western supporting, elitism of Saudi Arabia’s monarchical rule.

Al Jazeera’s broadcasts in recent years, often bitingly critical of, well, all Arab regimes at one time or another have enraged Arab leaders. Indeed, so far as I can recall, all Arab states have either sent petitions to Qatar’s Foreign Ministry to demand that they control Al Jazeera or have broken off diplomatic relations with the small, thumb sized Emirate.

(Incidentally, I am sure that there is an interesting article there: comparing Radio Cairo to Al Jazeera…)

Hat tip: A jolly good one from Abstract JK