In 2009 a confidential cable from the US ambassador to Qatar, Joseph LeBaron, alleges that the television station is being used as what amounts to a bargaining chip in the country's dealings with its neighbour Iran, with which it shares a gas field, and "problematic players such as Hamas, Hizbollah and Syria". Based on the American’s cable it is no surprise to witness Qatar’s support for anti-Syrian rebels.
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – Al Jazeera just announced a deal to take over Current TV, the cable channel that was founded by Al Gore, a former US vice president. Al Jazeera and its owners have long tried to convince everyone that it is a legitimate news organisation and not a propaganda machine or something more sinister. Looking at its track record, Al Jazeera network is being used as a propaganda tool by the rulers of Qatar to help to advance its agenda on the international stage. According to a memo published by WikiLeaks the television news network has always claimed to be editorially neutral, despite the fact that is owned by Sheikh Hamad bin Thamer al-Thani, a cousin of the ruling emir, and subsidised by the government of the Persian Gulf state, which controversially won the right to stage the 2022 World Cup.
In 2009 a confidential cable from the US ambassador to Qatar, Joseph LeBaron, alleges that the television station is being used as what amounts to a bargaining chip in the country's dealings with its neighbour Iran, with which it shares a gas field, and "problematic players such as Hamas, Hizbollah and Syria". Based on the American’s cable it is no surprise to witness Qatar’s support for anti-Syrian rebels. Qatar along with the USA, the UK, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are the main supporters of the so called Syrian Free Army and the one sided reports from the Syrian conflict by Al Jazeera is there for all to see.
Al Jazeera was founded in 1996 with offices in London and the US and seems to have a close relation with BBC as many of its staff come from the British corporation. In 2010, the ‘Reporters San Frontières’ report ranked Qatar at 112 out of 178 countries on the press freedom scale (compared with 73 out of 173 countries in 2008). Also Qatar’s media law is causing concern about its potentially contributing to further curbs on freedom of speech and reporting. Qatar is trying very hard to build an image of a mediator in regional politics but, it is no secret that since its inception, Al Jazeera has engaged in what Marwan Kraidy (Professor of communications at the University of Pennsylvania) calls the “anywhere but here” strategy of only criticising politics outside Qatar or its friends.
This conclusion appears more plausible when one considers Al Jazeera’s reporting of the Egyptian parliamentary elections when Mubarak was in power. The channel was offering virtually no coverage of alleged fraud which was taking place. This came after Mubarak’s first ever visit to Qatar prior to elections widely seen as a sign of a Qatari-Egyptian rapprochement. Qatar is working hard on its international image and its efforts (together with the petro dollars) paid off when FIFA announced that the Persian Gulf state would be hosting the World Cup in 2022, the first Arab country to do so. It has also opened the Arab Museum of Modern Art, followed by the Museum of Islamic Art that opened in 2008 and is host to an Education City encompassing branches of American universities like Georgetown and Northwestern University (the latter’s Qatar campus specialises in degree programs in journalism and communication).
The direction that Al Jazeera is taking is a challenge to this image. It is tempting for any regime to have a TV channel at its beck and call, mirroring the regime’s likes and dislikes, and serving as an instant political platform (the United States’ establishment of al-Hurra is a notable example). However, public opinion polls have shown that audiences are not fooled by such tactics (al-Hurra has had no measurable positive effect on the image of the USA in the Middle East). The strength of Al Jazeera as a public diplomacy tool for Qatar lies in its credibility. If that credibility is called into question, Al Jazeera will be perceived as yet another regime mouthpiece among many in the Arab world, and Qatar’s hard work would go to waste.