Journalist associations in Norway representing thousands of media workers have strongly criticised a Saudi-led campaign to have the Al Jazeera network and other regional media outlets shut down amid a Gulf diplomatic crisis.
In a statement released on Thursday, the Norwegian Press Association, the Norwegian Union of Journalists and Association of Norwegian Editors added their voice to a large number of news organisations and trade groups that have declared their support for the Qatar-based broadcaster against calls for its closure.
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“The signatory organisations strongly encourage the authorities of Saudi Arabia to respect that media, editors and journalists every day make an important contribution of keeping the people in the Arab countries and in the rest of the world informed of what is happening,” the three associations said.
The groups voiced their “strong disappointment” over what they described as an “attack on one of the key human rights” and requested “that freedom of expression and freedom of press” is respected.
“We emphasise that the Middle East, as the rest of the world, needs media companies to report news and current events, and give the public information and background analysis on what, when, how and why they occur,” they said.
“A ban on any media outlet is an outrageous attempt to censure the public debate. In a conflicted world, freedom of press is more important than ever.”
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic ties with Qatar and imposed sanctions on the country on June 5, accusing it of supporting “terrorism”. The allegation is rejected by Doha.
After more than two weeks, the four Arab countries issued a 13-point demand list on Friday in exchange for the end of the anti-Qatar measures and gave a 10-day deadline.
The demands included the closure of all news outlets that Qatar allegedly funds, directly and indirectly, including Arabi21, Rassd, Al Araby Al Jadeed, Mekameleen and Middle East Eye.
The Committee to Protect Journalists, Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders, the New York Times editorial board and The Guardian have all condemned the efforts to pressure Qatar into shutting down Al Jazeera.
David Kaye, the United Nations special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, has also rejected the demand to close Al Jazeera, saying that such a move would be “a major blow to media pluralism”.
Al Jazeera has described the Saudi-led campaign as “nothing but an attempt to silence the freedom of expression in the region and to suppress people’s right to information and the right to be heard”.
“We are stunned by the demand to close Al Jazeera,” Giles Trendle, the acting managing director of Al Jazeera’s English-language service 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 to close the BBC.”
Trendle said Al Jazeera is going to continue its “editorial mission of covering the world news in a fair and balanced way”.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, Qatar’s foreign minister, has said that Al Jazeera Media Network is an “internal affair” and there will be no discussion about its fate during the diplomatic crisis.