Al Jazeera

An unpublished review of the Al Jazeera website

Dateline 12 July 2005

“Phony reports link Al Qaeda to London attacks” is the top story of the week, according to Al Jazeera (www.aljazeera.com or .net for the Arabic version). The story is datelined 09:30 PM on 07 July, so the network was pretty quick to get this side of the story into circulation. The story cites an MSNBC translator as pointing to mistakes in the Qura’nic verses mentioned in the statement claiming responsibility. The story does not suggest any alternative suspects for the bombings.

Saudi based Arab News (www.arabnews.com) focuses instead on the human side of the story, with quotes from victims and witnesses, as well as Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Ian Blair.

Al Arabiya News, a satellite and web based news service based in Dubai, is pro-Western and has supported the liberation of Iraq, so might be expected to have a different perspective to Al Jazeera, however its news service is available only in Arabic, the only English section of the site trumpets the channels merits as an advertising medium.

For Al Jazeera to give such prominence to claims that Al Qaeda was not responsible for the London bombings certainly fits with the western view that its news scoops are based partly on links with Al Qaeda. The channel has always been uncritical in its attitude to terrorism: its claims that the reports linking Al Qaeda to the London bombings are phony are not even in inverted commas. Another prominent story concerns the killing of Egypt’s top envoy in Iraq, which the network describes as an ‘execution’ rather than a murder.

The channel’s positioning on the war against terror and war in Iraq is undoubtedly part of its appeal to some Arab audiences. With Al Arabiya gaining market share, the stance that the two networks take on American-led democratisation in the Middle East has become a key market differentiator for them both.

The fact that some aspects of Al Jazeera’s reporting have little credibility in the west may not damage its position within its market. The website gives space to conspiracy theories, but these are not as wacky as some of those that circulate in other parts of cyberspace, including reader posted comments on the site.

But as to whether Al Jazeera will ultimately triumph in its battle with Al Arabiya, that probably depends on whether democracy successfully takes root in the Middle East, and it will be years before we know that.

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