The growing Mideast fraternity of media-control thugs

Aug 10,2017 – JORDAN TIMES – Rami G. Khouri

The Israeli government move to close Al Jazeera television network’s operations in the country is not surprising in itself, given that the government’s irritation with Al Jazeera for the past two decades of comprehensive, live coverage of events in Israel and the Arab territories it occupies (Palestine) or wages war against (Lebanon).

The striking aspect of the Israeli government move was its explicit linking of this to the policies of the four Arab states that are laying siege to Qatar and themselves demanding the closure of Al Jazeera. This is fascinating for several reasons, including that autocratic regimes dislike the work of a free and professional press, and Israel’s desire to forge closer relations with Arab Gulf states in order to allow it virtual carte blanche in dealing with the Palestinians who are in a very weak position these days.

This pattern of behaviour defines not only Israel and Arab autocracies like Saudi Arabia and Egypt, it is also more evident now in NATO member countries like the United States and Turkey, whose leaders openly wage war against the press. This is in keeping with the modern legacy of autocrats who usually blame the media and foreign actors for their troubles when they are challenged at home.

The Israeli decision to close Al Jazeera reflects a wider tendency among autocrats in several continents to try and control their societies by totally shaping the flow of news and views in society. This is a pivotal step on the path from majoritarian or legitimate rule, to autocracy, to authoritarianism, and finally to totalitarianism in which citizens are treated like robots or children.

This is most obvious in many Arab countries where the mass media is a bland, wet sack of innocuous texts and audio-visual materials reflecting the different angles of a single government — defined viewpoint, often associated with hero-worshiping the great leader of the country. Israel is unable to do this with its vibrant domestic Hebrew-language press, but by closing Al Jazeera it is trying now to join the ranks of the Arab governments that prohibit any media coverage that is critical of state policies.

It is no surprise that Al Jazeera television network has now been targeted by both Arab and Israeli governments, because the network reveals the realities of these societies that governments would prefer were not known to the public. Al Jazeera rocketed to its success in just a few years after its birth in the mid-1990s precisely because it covered all the important news stories and political developments in the Arab world that ordinary Arab citizens cared about. These included ongoing developments in Palestine, the impact of the Israeli war and siege of Gaza, the Anglo-American war on Iraq, the Arab uprisings of 2010-11, and other developments that were important on a regional level, and not only as local or single-country stories.


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