As citizens of Western Civilization, we are generally all too familiar with the selective bias, sensationalism, and ignorance that riddles our media – mainstream and more obscure sources alike. Indeed, the vast majority of our media is controlled and operated by a small, but powerful and far-reaching conglomerate of corporate interest. Confirmation bias is an unavoidable product of such a monopoly in the marketplace and it often proves a difficult task to decipher bi-partisan analysis from the plethora of left-wing and right-wing interests respectively.
Thankfully, our nations and states have a multitude of regulatory bodies in place to limit corruption and to ensure – to some degree, at least – competing viewpoints and measured competition. While far from a bi-partisan & factual utopia, freedom of the press largely reigns supreme, and an ebb-and-flow of competing interests and viewpoints goes a fair way to providing the public with an equilibrium of partisan exposure and analysis. Not afraid to shy away from issues that threaten corporate interest or even national security (as Watergate, Murdochgate and Snowden Leaks have shown), our regulatory bodies and media outlets, while hardly exemplary, are at least a decent prohibition of outright corruption.
What, though, do we make of non-Western media organizations?
Launched in 1996, Al Jazeera stands as the preeminent source of Middle Eastern news coverage among non-Western outlets. In the Arab world alone, Al Jazeera claims a growing viewership that currently boasts over 40 million people. Hardly representative of total viewership, Al Jazeera has made successful inroads into the West, with its Western offshoot Al Jazeera English getting prominent exposure in the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, France and much of Europe alike. In January 2013, Al Jazeera purchased the United States owned and operated Current TV, replacing the network’s brand and programming with its United States-based offshoot Al Jazeera America. Time Warner Cable began carrying Al Jazeera America as of December 2013.
Critical to an examination of Al Jazeera’s media coverage is an understanding of its ownership and the implications that lay therein. Al Jazeera Media Network (the governing body of Al Jazeera) is owned and funded by the House of Thani – the ruling family of Qatar – headed by Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. Since the onset of the now laughable “Arab Spring”, Qatar has been embroiled in growing geopolitical and religious conflict across both the Middle East and the Gulf States. Central to its involvement, Qatar has been the largest proponent for support of the Muslim Brotherhood. In December, 2013, Emir of Qatar Hamad Al Thani described Qatar’s support of the Muslim Brotherhood as “a duty”.
Founded in Egypt in 1928, the Muslim Brotherhood is a transnational Islamic terrorist organization whose self-ascribed five-part slogan is: “Allah is our objective; the Qur’an is the Constitution; the Prophet is our leader; jihad is our way; death for the sake of Allah is our wish.”. According to 2007 publication Political Islam: Case studies : Africa, Iran, Europe, Asia by Barry M. Rubin, the more recent and popular interpretation of the slogan stands as: “Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. The Qur’an is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope. Allahu akbar!”.
Rather than being a centralized political entity, the Muslim Brotherhood is an Islamic supremacist movement with political offshoots stretching across much of the Middle East and North Africa. Perhaps the most well-known of these political entities is the Palestinian group Hamas. Founded in 1987, Hamas is the governing body of the Gaza Strip, representative of the Palestinian people, and key military opponent to the state of Israel. Hamas’ 1988 issued Charter describes its purpose as being for the eventual introduction of an Islamic state across all Palestinian land, and the obliteration and/or dissolution of the Israeli State. The charter, riddled with antisemitism and Islamic supremacism, further states: “our struggle against the Jews is very great and very serious”. Despite having issued a multitude of contradictory statements over the years, Hamas has refused to abandon the Charter citing ‘internal reasons’. Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by 37 countries.
Indeed, Qatar’s financing of the Brotherhood is implicated in much of the tug-of-war witnessed across the Muslim world; supporting insurgencies in Syria, the continual rearming and financial support of Hamas, the rise and success of ISIL, and much of the growing subversion across the Gulf States. Similarly, Qatar houses and supports exiled members of the recently-toppled Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
Once held in high regard for its unique Middle Eastern perspective – namely its coverage of the War in Afghanistan – Al Jazeera’s credibility as an independent media outlet has rapidly corroded under the weight of Qatar’s far-reaching Islamic interests.
A brief survey of its media coverage online goes some way to exposing the scope of Qatar’s influence. Confirmation bias aside, the campaign for Palestine and coverage of the Gaza conflict (the hypocrisy of which I covered here) undoubtedly holds a disproportionate amount of focus for Al Jazeera.
While the Islamic State (ISIL) is rapidly instituting its Islamic rule of law across Iraq, edging toward ethnic cleansing of Assyrian Christians and Yazidis in a barbaric fashion almost unheard of, Al Jazeera is bizarrely quiet on the issue relative to the severity and nature of the crisis. A crisis, moreover, that poses a threat not just to Iraq and Syria but to the civilized and secular world abroad.
A look at the website’s top nine issues of focus would appear to indicate that ISIL is not an issue of concern for the outlet, its readers, let alone the world at large.
It isn’t until we reach the bottom of the page that we see a mention of ISIL. However, rather than bringing focus to the atrocious, inhumane actions of the group tearing the region apart and threatening the very existence of non-Muslims, Al Jazeera instead opts to target the policy of United States president Barrack Obama, going so far as to seemingly undermine the significance or severity of ISIS’ actions by using the term genocide in scare quotes.
The apparent influence of Qatar’s Islamic interests in Al Jazeera’s publications extend beyond just the coverage in the Middle East. On August 5, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott held a press conference regarding proposed changes in counter-terrorism laws aimed at subduing the growing nature of Islamic extremism in Australia. Al Jazeera, in its intellectually bereft and decidedly lousy reporting, sought quickly to undermine the severity of Australia’s growing radicalized Muslim demographic, by posting a blog comprised of social media comments aimed at mocking the Australian Prime Minister.
Shortly after Australia’s announcement to counteract domestic Islamic extremism, Indonesia – the world’s largest Muslim nation and neighbour to Australia – outright banned public support for ISIL. Oddly enough, Al Jazeera did not have one single article dedicated to the newly enacted law and instead sought to give the issue brief mention in loosely-related reports and editorials.
As discussed at the onset of this piece, confirmation bias in media outlets is an unavoidable reality of the industry. Less worrying than the bias itself (usually offset by competing interest and competition), is the driving force behind the bias. In the case of Al Jazeera, that force is the Islamic supremacism harbored by Qatar; a country openly funding a global Jihadist movement hell-bent on conquering the world over, standing behind a religious ideology that believes there can only be peace once the whole world is Muslim.