What do the Saudi or the Israeli governments have to do with the way we get our news? Quite a bit, lately. Both countries have declared open war to one of my main news sources, Al Jazeera. Since a couple of months, Qatar (whose Emir owns the multilingual TV station) is under a severe blockade from other Gulf countries, led by Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. Among their demands is the closing of Al Jazeera. Just a few days ago, the Israeli government has decided to shut down the Tel Aviv offices of Al Jazeera, as well as obscure its signal in the country, in an effort to censor information for the Arab speaking population, or better, the Palestinians who live under Israeli occupation in Gaza and the West Bank.
As with any news outlet, Al Jazeera obviously has its own geopolitical agenda, often critical of the Saudis (I can hardly blame them) and of other countries in the region (an Al Jazeera journalist is presently imprisoned in Egypt, charged with “broadcasting false news”). But the station operates in an area where access to independent information is not so common, and very essential. Moreover, it covers news from places that most international press simply ignore, and it has a style I really like: when they interview anybody, be it an immigrant on a boat or a shepherd from the Andes, their full name and surname is at the bottom of the screen. Programs are often very well made – and informative: Inside Story (half an hour devoted to a current topic, with experts on air via Skype) or The Stream (more internet, youth oriented news) are sometimes very illuminating. Now Al Jazeera is fighting back.
To those who demand that Al Jazeera be shut down and that people’s right to the truth be suppressed, we too have demands. We demand journalists be able to do their jobs free from intimidation and threat. We demand diversity of thought and opinion be cherished, not feared. We demand the public have access to unbiased information. We demand journalists not be treated as criminals. We demand those without a voice be heard. We demand press freedom.
At Al Jazeera, we believe that any call for closing down or obstructing access to our channels is nothing but an attempt to silence freedom of expression and to suppress people’s right to information and the right to be heard. You can join the conversation and share your demands on the hashtag #DemandPressFreedom.