A demand by a group of Arab countries to close Al Jazeera Media Network is “wrong”, “ridiculous” and “must be resisted”, The Guardian newspaper has said in an editorial, joining a growing chorus of voices raising concerns about suppression of press freedom in the Gulf.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt reportedly gave Qatar 10 days to comply with 13 demands to end a major diplomatic crisis in the Gulf, insisting, among others, that Doha shut down Al Jazeera, close a Turkish military base and scale down ties with Iran.
“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 editorial published by The Guardian on Friday said.
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By attacking Doha-based Al Jazeera, “Qatar’s neighbours want to gag media that raises questions about the way these nations are run,” the respected British newspaper said in a piece titled, The Guardian view on Al Jazeera: muzzling journalism.
Al Jazeera was a key source of news as the Arab Spring rolled across the Middle East in 2011, “infuriating many Arab leaders” who “no doubt wished it would be taken off air, permanently”, The Guardian wrote.
“Al Jazeera, which arrived long before the internet in the region, broke the mould by reaching directly into Arab living rooms. Along with social media, Al Jazeera has in recent years stirred public opinion in ways Arab governments could not ignore.
“But now Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates think they can silence it with a blockade of Qatar that will only be lifted if Al Jazeera is shut down.”
While noting that “Al Jazeera is not perfect”, The Guardian said that Qatar abolished formal censorship 20 years ago.
“By comparison, in 2012 the UAE demanded [ex-British Prime Minister] David Cameron rein in adverse BBC coverage or it would halt lucrative arms deals,” it said.
“Abu Dhabi is a regional media player. The UAE’s deputy prime minister owns Sky News Arabia, along with Rupert Murdoch’s broadcaster. According to observers this station put out fake news about Qatar’s ruler.”
Earlier on Friday, media watchdogs, human rights groups and prominent commentators all condemned the demand to close Al Jazeera as “outrageous”, “absurd” and “worrying”.
The Qatar-based network also described the call for its closure as “nothing short than a siege against the journalistic profession”.
“We assert our right to practise our journalism professionally without bowing to pressure from any government or authority and we demand that governments respect the freedom of media to allow journalists to continue to do their jobs free of intimidation, threats, and fearmongering,” it said in a statement.
Earlier this week, the Editorial Board of the New York Times said a “misguided attack” on Al Jazeera was an attempt by Saudi Arabia and its anti-Qatar coalition to “eliminate a voice that could lead citizens to question their rulers”.