UAE says TV station gives platforms to terrorists and should be controlled, as US tries to mediate in Saudi Arabia on regional crisis
The anti-Qatar alliance launched a fresh attack on the Qatar-funded broadcaster al-Jazeera Arabic, accusing it of having “blood on its hands” and inciting hate, violence and discrimination.
Noura al Kaabi, the UAE minister responsible for media regulation, told the Guardian the station had given a platform to “some of the most dangerous terrorists in the world” and needed to be subject to new and externally-monitored editorial controls.
Her remarks about the need for new editorial controls at Al Jazeera confirm previous UAE ministerial statements that the total closure of the TV station is no longer being sought.
The UAE also issued a hard-hitting five-minute video in which it accused al-Jazeera Arabic of being responsible for radicalising one of the three men who mounted an attack at Borough Market in London last month, killing eight people.
Al-Jazeera Arabic did not respond to requests for comment but the Qatar foreign minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al Thani, speaking at Chatham House in London, defended the station as “an independent news network that helps inform Arabs and the wider world alike about the social, political and economic developments in our region”.
The renewed assault on the station’s output, one of the most difficult arguments for the anti-Qatar alliance to win with western public opinion seeing an attack on press freedom, suggests the anti-Qatar alliance of Gulf States has no desire to reach an early compromise with the leadership in Doha.
The claim that the Borough Market terrorist Youssef Zaghba was radicalised by TV stations such as al-Jazeera Arabic appears to be based on a brief reference in an interview his mother and sister gave to the Times. In other interviews the mother more broadly blamed the internet.
The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt have since 4 June closed their borders to Qatar and banned air flights over their territory.
The US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, met the four anti-Qatar foreign ministers in Jeddah on Wednesday in an attempt to mediate. Tillerson has hailed a memorandum of understanding signed jointly by the US and Qatar , designed to tighten up any flow of funds from Qatar to extremists groups, and has become increasingly open about his belief that Qatar has behaved reasonably in its power struggle with Saudi Arabia.
Al-Kaabi questioned the value of the memorandum. “We have lost trust with the government of Qatar,” he said. “The difficulty is that it is one thing to sign an agreement, but the true test is whether it is ever enforced. An agreement is not an agreement if it is not honoured.”
The UAE also believes the threat posed by Qatar extends beyond direct funding of extremism to support in which al-Jazeera Arabic plays a critical role.
In an attempt to reframe the argument as one of security, rather than media freedom, the UAE has written to the UN high commissioner for human rights, Zeid bin Ra’ad al Hussein, to claim that al-Jazeera Arabic editorially supports terrorist groups, incites violence and promotes sectarianism and antisemitism.
In the letter to the UN, the UAE claims “freedom of expression cannot be used to justify and shield the promotion of extremist narratives,” adding there was a direct connection between its broadcasts and terrorists acts.
Al Kaabi said agreements signed by Qatar in 2013 and 2014, and leaked earlier this week, had included commitments to end the support for terrorism and the Muslim Brotherhood.
“It was expected then there would be editorial changes, but the agreement has been violated and broken. It was very clear that if the agreement was broken there would be repercussions. Many people do not understand what occurs on al-Jazeera Arabic. It is not a channel that empowers, but destroys and has blood on its hands … It has provided a platform for some of the most dangerous terrorists in the world,” she said.
“Far from being a channel of editorial freedom, al-Jazeera is very selective. It never highlights opposition to Turkey’s President Erdoğan, such as the recent civilians’ march. They preach freedom of expression and yet al-Jazeera never ever broadcasts anything to do with opposition to the Qatar regime. The freedom of expression only operates outside the borders of Qatar.”
Al Thani said the station was also critical of Qatar. “For the record, al-Jazeera did and continues to look critically at all Arab countries including Qatar, hosting opposing and alternative views daily – something that does not exists anywhere else in the region.
“Our neighbours see change – those advocating for it, and those reporting on it – as a threat … and they are quick to label anyone who opposes their governments as a ‘terrorist’. In Qatar we embrace change.”
Dr Mohamed Erraji from the thinktank al-Jazeera Centre for Studies said: “The propagandists have portrayed Qatar as a mouthpiece for sedition and discord through al-Jazeera Media Network, which they perceive as an instrument of incitement.”
He added: “Hundreds of studies and dissertations about al-Jazeera have been published by prestigious academic institutions and organisations which underscore the importance of the role played by the channel in the Arab media scene since its inception in 1996.”