By Robert Njeru
Neighboring Gulf countries have made an ultimatum that seeks to shut down Qatar-based Al Jazeera, which has been around for the last 20 years. According to Giles Trendle who is the managing director of Al Jazeera English, this represents the biggest challenge that the media house it has ever faced.
Over the years, Al Jazeera’s journalists have been locked up, their international offices bombed while others were shut down.
Al Jazeera is a big employer, for instance, the London Bridge-based Al Jazeera English employs 80 editorial staff. Apart from the UK, Al Jazeera English is broadcast in 130 countries.
Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates are the nations that have issued a ten-day ultimatum to Qatar. They are demanding for the closure of the channel and its affiliate stations.
The nations are also demanding that Qatar cuts ties with “terrorist organizations” and Iran. For instance, Saudi Arabia has implied that the channel is being used as a propaganda tool for terrorists and Islamists.
According to Trendle, the accusations against the channel are baseless since they have been associated with everyone from being pro US, pro Israel, pro Hezbollah to pro Hamas.
Trendle said that they believe in professional, balanced and comprehensive journalism. He added that they enjoy editorial independence although the channel is owned by the state of Qatar. Al Jazeera has won many prestigious industry awards over the years.
According to Trendle, freedom of expression will be killed if the channel is closed down. “Silencing the media in this manner would be a danger and a shame for the journalism profession,” he said.
If the channel is forced to close, approximately 3,000 journalists and support staff from different parts of the world will lose their jobs.
Citizens in Saudi Arabia are already being subjected to a hefty fine if they are caught watching the channel. Offices in Jordan and Saudi Arabia were recently closed down.
“Our motto is based on presenting all sides of the story and therefore, the channel represents free expression and democracy. These values are desperately needed in the Middle East and it would be a tragedy if the common Arab in the street is denied hope and idealism,” Trendle said.
Over the last 20 years, Al Jazeera has had to deal with all manner of problems from their signal being jammed, offices being closed and their websites being taken down.
Treble described the idea of a nation demanding that its neighbor closes down a leading broadcaster as being “outrageous.” “It is like Britain being asked by Germany to close down BBC,” he added.
Al Jazeera began its operations back in 1996 while Al Jazeera English took off in 2006.
Reporters Without Borders, National Union of Journalists and The International Federation of Journalists recently pledged their support for Al Jazeera. The Guardian and The New York Times have also published editorials in support of the broadcasting organization.
Al Jazeera is a leading world broadcaster and it is feared that the situation could escalate further if Qatar does not comply with its neighbors demands.