Al Jazeera and The Global Attack on Journalism

Hatim Rachdi, Staff Reporter

Al Jazeera English newsroom. (Photo/ Wikimedia Commons)

The global attack on journalism and Al Jazeera’s challenges in covering news about the region and the “global south” is evident, said Giles Trendle, acting director of Al Jazeera English, in a virtual event held on Tuesday.

The event was organized by Professor Khaled AL-Hroub’s Media and Politics in the Arab World class in collaboration with Northwestern University in Qatar’s Liberal Arts program and was moderated by student Noora Al-Yafei.

 During the discussion, Trendle drew attention to the increasing hostility towards journalists and its normalization. He listed few attacks on journalism happening globally, including the murder, detainment and imprisonment of journalists. He emphasized that these incidents are deliberately done to target and silence journalists.

“China, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt are, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, the four countries that imprison the most journalists,” said Trendle.

 When discussing the 11 Al Jazeera journalists killed over the last 23 years, Trendle argued that some of these cases can be described as murder since these journalists were deliberately targeted.

He also mentioned the case of Al Jazeera journalist Mahmud Hussain, who was arrested in Egypt back in Dec. 2016. Hussain is still detained to this day with no charges or convictions.

Trendle recognized the responsibility of officials and governments in these attacks. He referred to US President Donald Trump invoking fake news whenever he doesn’t personally agree with the press, going as far as calling the press the “enemy of the people.

“One way of silencing journalists in the past was to strangle them…but I think governments are recognizing that there are other ways to silence journalists, maybe smarter ways by a smear campaign or by legal harassment,” he added.

 During this discussion, the audience asked a wide variety of questions ranging from Al Jazeera’s ties to Qatar and how it affects its editorial decisions, to engaging in conversations about decolonizing narratives when covering the “global south.”

“Decolonizing the narrative is hugely important for us, and what this means is that we are not a traditional western media like the BBC and CNN that will send their reporters into a country,” said Trendle. “We always try to find local reporters from the region itself, from the country itself.”

Trendle went on to emphasize that the importance of people’s agency in telling their own narrative is fundamental to Al Jazeera’s ethos and vision of being “a voice for the voiceless.”

The fact that shutting down Al Jazeera was listed among the 13 demands of the blockading countries against Qatar speaks volumes to its influence in the region, added Trendle. Regardless, Al Jazeera has maintained balanced reporting on the GCC crisis and constantly tries to include voices from Saudi Arabia and Egypt to include their side of the story, he said.

When a student asked about Al Jazeera’s response to criticisms that it does not report negatively on Qatar, Trendle responded by providing examples where it has, such as reports on wage abuse and COVID-19’s impact on migrant workers in the country.

“Yes, we are funded by the state of Qatar, but we are editorially independent, and we are not state controlled,” said Trendle.

“Our model is very much like the BBC or Deutsche Welle or France 24, which are also state funded, but no one questions the BBC in the same way as they do to Al Jazeera…there is a feel of a double standard behind these questions about people saying Al Jazeera is state controlled. It is not,” said Trendle.

This sparked a conversation on the chat, where students, faculty and staff engaged with the guest speaker’s response. Professor Sami Hermez commented on the lack of criticism of Qatari policies and local reporting on Al Jazeera, unlike the BBC. Trendle did not get the opportunity to respond.

Trendle reminded the audience of the importance of journalism in today’s world, highlighting Al Jazeera’s commitment to ethical, fierce, and strong journalism. “You don’t maintain and sustain your market professionalism if you are not being credible, authentic, and true to the profession of journalism.”

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