Al Jazeera – An Analysis of the Qatar based news network

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There are two countries in the Middle East which are being increasingly perceived as powers to reckon with. The first is the Islamic Republic of Iran which has since the days of the Islamic Revolution in 1979 matched up to the might of the United States of America. Ironically, the other country is the tiny nation of Qatar which has brought about a wave of changes in the entire geopolitics of the region by institutionalizing a powerful and autonomous news network besides being brave enough to vouch for hosting the FIFA World Cup in the heat of the Arab land.

The usage of the word ‘ironical’ is intentional as Qatar happens to be a Sunni majority country as opposed to the Shia majority Iran. As far as the political structure is concerned, both the countries exhibit a very strange kind of authoritarianism. Even though Iran is a functioning democracy, the Constitution of Iran empowers the Supreme Leader of Iran, by and large a religio-political authority, to have the final call on all matters of governance and administration. Qatar on the other hand is far less democratic and is one of the few nations of the world which is credited with the rather unceremonious title of being an “absolute monarchy.”

In order to counter the growing influence of the Western Media in regards to the representation of the people living in the Orient, specifically the Arab World, the Emir of Qatar financed the launching of Al Jazeera in the year 1996 following the disputed closure of BBC’s Arab News Channel. Al Jazeera’s claims towards maintaining editorial independence are based on the finer nuances of its funding mechanism. The “Emiri Decree’s” which finance operations at Al Jazeera come by way of loans (like the “500 million Qatari Riyals” granted by the Emir in 1996 to kick-start the network) instead of direct government subsidies.

Ideologically speaking, Al Jazeera is generally viewed as a left-of-centre media organization which is more or less critical of the expansionist interventions of the United States in the region of Middle East which happens to be quite a mercenary in terms of mineral and oil wealth. However, domestically Al Jazeera can be termed as a news network which belongs to the liberal school of thought since it has gone out of the way on several occasions and taken up issues which would go usually unnoticed in conservative Muslim-majority societies. Al Jazeera’s reportage of the War in Afghanistan was its first supposed “claim to fame”. During the tumultuous war time, Al Jazeera aired videos of several terrorists including Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks in the United States. While this lead to heavy criticism of the news network, a plus point of this exercise was that Al Jazeera was applauded as having given an opportunity to both the sides to speak. Al Jazeera’s maverick coverage of war events continued during the extended conflict in Iraq in 2003.

As Al Jazeera grabbed several awards at various international media functions, it also expanded its operations by launching Al Jazeera English in November 2006 and Al Jazeera America in January 2013. Coming to the core issue of the legal status of Al Jazeera, a news report published in the Gulf News on 13th July, 2011 reported that Al Jazeera was planning to turn into a “private organisation devoted to public interest” but this spectacle is yet to occur as the Emir of Qatar is still the one who is empowered to call the shots at Al Jazeera as was reflected recently when the News Director of the organization ordered the reediting of a video clip on the Syrian conflict to include the comments of Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa al-Thani.

In terms of audience reach, Al Jazeera claims to have a firm audience base of 40 million in the Arab World. A research conducted by Allied Media Corp stated that the bulk of Al Jazeera viewers watch the news network for an average of 2-3 hours every day. The research pointed out at the alarming yet misogynistic nature of the Arab society since the male viewers clearly outnumbered the female viewers by a large margin. We can conclude by stating that even though Al Jazeera is brilliantly managed and is quite an exception when scrutinized through the lens of its background and history but it would still have to improve a lot in order to gain greater credibility and acceptance in the West which is possible only if Al Jazeera restraints itself from excessively raking up issues cornering around the twin themes of Pan-Islamism and Pan-Arabism which are the hot favourites of its large audience.  

Statements ‘PM Candidate’ Narendra Modi would like to forget

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Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi is greeted by BJP President Rajnath Singh after being appointed as BJP’s Prime Ministerial Candidate. (Image: HT Photo)

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi was officially anointed as his party’s Prime Ministerial candidate by the BJP Parliamentary Board on Friday. Arun Jaitley, Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha stated that the decision was a formal recognition of the overwhelming desire of millions of party supporters and the party cadre. Following Modi’s elevation, party patriarch and veteran leader LK Advani went into a sulk and shot off an angry letter to Party President Rajnath Singh in which he criticized his style of functioning. There are two principal conclusions which can be drawn from the political show which has been playing out in front of our television screens since Modi’s elevation. First, the top brass of the BJP and RSS is firm on their choice of Modi as ‘the’ leader who is capable of wresting power from the Congress lead United Progressive Alliance in 2014. Second, any revolt to Modi would eventually be stonewalled from Nagpur by some means or the other just as LK Advani was persuaded into withdrawing his resignation by RSS Sarsangchalak Mohan Bhagwat following Modi’s appointment as BJP Campaign Committee Chief earlier this year.

Modi’s meteoric rise among the political circles of India has already changed the dimensions of the Indian political spectrum but many are still wary of the saffron leader’s secular credentials and are calling for alignment of secular forces to take on the Hindutva hardliner. Here, we take a look at some of the controversial things done and said by the Gujarat CM which could very effectively be utilized to dampen Narendra Modi’s claims of “not just being the leader of Hindus”.

1. Praise of MS Golwalkar – MS Golwalkar served as the Sarsangchalak of the RSS for 33 continuous years. His three decade long journey with the socio-cultural organization generated many controversies. MS Golwalkar opined that the country had three problems: Muslims, Christians and Communists. He also stated, “In this land, Hindus have been owners, Parsis and Jews the guests and Muslims and Christians the Dacoits.” The current Hindu Hriday Samrat ie Narendra Modi has written an entire book dedicated to the life of MS Golwalkar titled ‘Shree Guruji: Ek Swayamsevak’. The hefty praise which Narendra Modi has laid on the controversial leader could well turn out to be very costly for him in the times to come.

2. Hum paanch, humare pachees – Narendra Modi mocked the Muslim community in one of his speeches during the Gujarat Gaurav Yatra held shortly after the carnage in Gujarat. He said, “What should we do? Run relief camps for them? Do we want to open baby producing centres? Hum paanch humare pachees (We are five and we will have 25 offsprings).

3. Ambedkar converted to Buddhism not Islam or Christianity – In April 2010, during the release of a book titled “Samajik Samarasta”, Narendra Modi said, “Ambedkar gave up Hinduism but did not convert to Muslim or Christianity. He converted to a religion, Buddhism which originated in Hindustan like Hinduism.”

4. Clash with ‘Christian’ CEC JM Lyngdoh – During a rally in Baroda, Narendra Modi hit out at former Chief Election Commissioner JM Lyngdoh for rejecting BJP’s demand for holding elections in the state of Gujarat in the aftermath of the 2002 riots. Modi made repeated references to his Christian background and his association with Sonia Gandhi for being the reason behind this well calculated move of the Election Commission. Unlike his past theatrics, this one did not go unnoticed and Prime Minister Vajpayee issued a statement pulling up the Gujarat CM for his denigration of the CEC. He said, “I am distressed by the undignified controversy involving the chief election commissioner and the chief minister of Gujarat in the context of the Assembly elections in Gujarat. Both are high Constitutional authorities and they must be given the respect that is their due.”

5. Statement Against Conversions: In a television interview to a Hindi news channel, Narendra Modi spoke of the need to ban conversions by stating that even Mahatma Gandhi was critical of the practise. However, when pressed upon to state his position in regards to reconversions to Hinduism, Modi said that there was no problem in connection to that as people ‘return to their old homes and it was a natural process’.

6. Miyan Musharraf – When erstwhile Pakistani dictator General Pervez Musharaf threatened raising the issue of Gujarat pogrom at the United Nations, Narendra Modi hit back by saying, “Stop doing this Miyan Musharraf or five crore people of Gujarat will chop off the hand which has this dirty finger which you are pointing towards Gujarat.”

References:
Golwalkar – The Guru of Hate by Ramachandra Guha
Concerned Citizens Tribunal – Gujarat 2002: An inquiry into the carnage of Gujarat

Weblinks:
Narendra’s Modi’s remarks despicable: Lyngdoh  http://www.rediff.com/news/2002/aug/23guj.htm

PM raps Modi for remarks on Lyngdog
http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2002-08-24/india/27319645_1_gujarat-chief-minister-james-michael-lyngdoh-improper-language

Narendra Modi on conversions
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0l2UAJG7EMU

Narendra Modi on BR Ambedkar’s Conversion
http://deshgujarat.com/2010/04/27/ambedkar-didnt-choose-islam-or-christianity-for-conversion/