The long-time Berlin correspondent for Al Jazeera, Aktham Suliman, recently resigned from his post. The journalist tells DW that the Qatari government is exercising undue influence on Al Jazeera’s reporting.
DW: You’ve criticized Al Jazeera as lacking in professionalism, and you’ve quit your post as the broadcaster’s Berlin correspondent. Is Al Jazeera following a specific agenda?
Aktham Suliman: I have to say that professionalism is now lacking at Al Jazeera. When I started in 2002, I didn’t have that impression – quite the contrary. Of course there were fundamental, long-term problems, but in the last two years Al Jazeera has really let itself go in terms of professionalism.
It’s possible that it does have an agenda, but of course no one makes it clear. The thing is that, if you’re professional, you can deal with an agenda. If the employees, the editors or the owners had one and tried to impose it, professionalism would ensure that this didn’t happen at the cost of high quality journalistic product.
But that’s precisely what didn’t happen when efforts were obviously being made to impose on Al Jazeera the agenda of the state of Qatar. The problem is that the organization lacks internal structures that would immunize it against what was presumably an attempt by the owner or by the editors to interfere politically in things that should have been handled in a journalistic manner.
Can you give an example of what you mean?
Libyan rebels were triumphant in September 2011
The most important example is the conflict in Libya. Of course Muammar Gadhafi was a dictator, and of course he’d ruled for far too long. Of course there was a desire among the Libyans to get rid of him. All that is clear. But it’s also clear that killing a dictator, as happened with Gadhafi, is absolutely unacceptable on human rights grounds, revolution or no. And that’s not emphasized. That is: We stressed the necessity of a revolution in Libya and the humanity of the revolutionaries, but said nothing about the murder of a dictator.
What should also give us pause for thought is that it wasn’t just Gadhafi who was killed. Many others were killed after him – including, incidentally, the man who shot Gadhafi. He was killed by another group of revolutionaries. That’s the actual environment in Libya. And that’s exactly what you don’t see on today’s Al Jazeera. That’s not professional.
In Syria, too, society is divided. You have the pro-Assad people, and those who are against him. However, when you make one side out to be mass murderers and turn the others into saints you’re fueling the conflict, not presenting the situation in an appropriate and balanced way. There are murders, injustices and good things on both sides. But you don’t see that on Al Jazeera. My problem is and was: When I see Al Jazeera’s Syrian coverage, I don’t really understand what’s going on there. And that’s the first thing I expect from journalism.
How do you explain these developments at Al Jazeera?
You notice with these cases that it involves governments who have fallen out of favor with Qatar’s rulers. Libya, Syria and Yemen, for example. Other countries like Jordan and Bahrain are experiencing similar phenomena – rebellion and protest against their ruling classes. But there’s far less reporting on them. You’ll notice how that corresponds to the state of Qatar’s foreign policy. This is a very serious issue, because we at Al Jazeera were always proud to say: We’re financed by Qatar, but the state never interferes with our reporting. Now we suddenly find ourselves in a situation in which our reporting is precisely aligned with Qatari foreign policy.
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Categories: Arab World, Asia, Qatar
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