24 September 2017

The ABC and SBS need to drop their love affair with Al Jazeera

by Colin Rubenstein (An edited version of this piece appeared in Sydney's Daily Telegraph on Friday, Sept. 22)

The Qatari run and owned Al Jazeera TV News network has itself been much in the news of late – and not for positive reasons. Yet ABC and SBS continue to use Al Jazeera stories as a prominent  part of their own foreign news coverage.

One focus of the recent Saudi-led ultimatums to Qatar has been Al Jazeera. Their demands to Qatar have included that Doha either shut down Al Jazeera or at least stop “acts of incitement and all forms of expression which spread, incite, promote or justify hatred and violence,” including incitement at al-Jazeera

While the four countries  leading the Qatar boycott campaign, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, are hardly bastions of human rights or democracy, when it comes to al-Jazeera’s history of incitement and promoting extremism, they have a  compelling  point.

Al Jazeera consistently promotes the Qatari government’s pro-Muslim Brotherhood agenda, and even materially helps those aligned with it by providing them free communications equipment, according to Mohamed Fahmy, former Bureau Chief for Al Jazeera in Egypt.

Fahmy revealed that Al Jazeera smuggled US$50,000 worth of satellite communication equipment to Al-Qaeda-aligned Syrian rebels, and argues this represents a larger pattern whereby the network’s political goals have put its journalists at risk. Fahmy says
“I believe Al Jazeera’s irresponsible approach to newsgathering contributed to the killing and jailing of the network’s journalists by repressive governments and extremist groups.”
Fahmy was arrested. in Cairo  alongside Australian fellow journalist  Peter Greste in late 2013 for the tenor of their reporting shortly after Qatar joined an Accord with Saudi Arabia and Cairo vowing not to support extremist organisations.

According to Fahmy, the chairman of Al Jazeera, despite knowing about the Accords, failed to warn the journalists about the potential consequences of their reporting. In Fahmy’s words,
“we three journalists committed no crime – Al Jazeera did.”
This was only compounded by Al Jazeera airing incendiary reports attacking the Egyptian government during the journalists’ incarceration and trial.

Peter Greste himself stated that
“from watching some of Al Jazeera’s Arabic coverage and the coverage of Al Jazeera’s Egyptian channel Mubasher (Misr) … politically they seemed quite aligned with the Brotherhood.”
 Al Jazeera staff deny it, but the network in fact routinely criticises  regimes with whom the Qatari government has a gripe – yet never the actions of the authoritarian Qatar government which floods the network with funds.

And there is ample evidence from inside the network that Qatari-appointed editors are telling journalists to cover stories in ways Qatar prefers.

Thus, it  was revealed in 2015 that the editor of Al Jazeera English had encouraged staff to push the line that the horrifying Al-Qaeda-inspired murders at the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris were a “clash of extremist fringes” – with the journalists as bad as their murderers.

Similarly, an Al Jazeera America journalist says reporters were instructed by their editors to attack Israel in their reports.

Al Jazeera has often criticized co-operation between the Palestinian Authority and Israel – pushing the line of extremist group Hamas, which Qatar backs.

On Israel, Al Jazeera has frequently made irresponsible claims:

  • in 2015, accusing Israel of opening dams in the south of the country to  flood parts of the Gaza Strip. In actual fact there were no such dams in southern Israel.
  • In June, when three terrorists shot and killed two policemen near Jerusalem’s Temple Mount only to flee and eventually be shot and killed, Al Jazeera initially reported the incident as “at least three Palestinians killed in shooting in Jerusalem’s Old City.”
  • It later helped stoke the subsequent two weeks of Palestinian-initiated violence over the Temple Mount by airing incendiary and false claims that Israeli security cameras would allow Israeli authorities to see the naked bodies of Muslim worshippers through their clothes.
  • Al Jazeera recently referred to Haifa, a city in the pre-1967 borders of Israel ,as in “northern occupied Palestine".
  • Most recently, Al Jazeera aired a “documentary” based largely on the claims of Elena Zakusilo, a Ukrainian Jewish woman who claimed on a local television game show that she served in a combat role in the IDF, including being forced by the IDF to murder innocent children. Elementary checking showed she had never had done anything more than voluntary administrative tasks in the IDF.
  • An Al Jazeera reporter in Israel, Elias Karam, recently told a Muslim Brotherhood TV channel that he views his journalism as “resistance” to “occupation.”
  • Most infamously, in 2008, the network hosted an on-air party for recently released Lebanese terrorist Samir Kuntar, treating him as a hero. Kuntar had infiltrated Israel in 1978, and killed four people, including smashing the head of a four year old girl and shooting dead her father.

Australia's  taxpayer-funded television networks – with their statutory obligation of fairness and balance - simply have no business regurgitating  Middle East coverage from this network. They appear to do so, in part, because they can re-use its stories cheaply or for free. But there is simply no excuse for outsourcing their obligations to Australian taxpayers to what is effectively the lavishly-funded communications arm of the authoritarian, extremist-supporting Qatar government.

*Dr. Colin Rubenstein  is Executive Director of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council. Previously, he taught Middle East politics at Monash University for many years.

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