x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 22 October 2017

Arab quartet sends formal complaint about Al Jazeera to British broadcast watchdog

Al Jazeera's Arabic service is available in millions of British homes

The ambassadors of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain to the UK have complained to the British broadcasting watchdog about Al Jazeera's Arabic service, which is widely available in UK homes. Wolfgang Kumm / EPA
The ambassadors of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain to the UK have complained to the British broadcasting watchdog about Al Jazeera's Arabic service, which is widely available in UK homes. Wolfgang Kumm / EPA

European regulators are investigating allegations that Al Jazeera news channels infringed broadcasting laws by producing material that was inflammatory or amounted to incitement.

Ambassadors representing the Arab Quartet in London submitted a letter to the British regulator Ofcom. On Friday, it said it was taking the dossier seriously and had also passed the report to its Italian counterpart.

The key point of the letter, which is also signed by Arab journalist associations, is that by sanctioning a broadcasting service by Al Jazeera English (AJE) the authorities are granting “global credibility” to the Arabic-language channel (AJA).

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The ambassadors to the Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain - which broke relations with Qatar nearly four months ago – said Ofcom should establish if the services breached British or European directives. “AJA benefits from AJE’s credibility by association, despite the fact that AJA is not licensed or currently regulated in the United Kingdom or any EU member state,” the letter states. “Al Jazeera Media Network’s acting director general Mostefa Souag made a number of statements claiming that AJE’s and AJA’s 'editorial line is the same. We do not use two different editorial lines'”.

“Al Jazeera Media Network’s repeated statements seek to give the impression, or at least gave the misleading impression, that all of its channels are licenced and regulated by Ofcom, or that they comply with the standards of the Ofcom Code.”

Al Jazeera is based in Doha and the four countries boycotting Qatar accuse the TV station of promoting an extremist agenda. Closing down the station and its affiliates was one of the conditions imposed by the Arab quartet leadership for lifting the boycott on Qatar.

The five point request from the ambassadors to Ofcom asked for an assessment that Al Jazeera was fit to hold a broadcasting licence when it was a platform for allegedly “positive or sympathetic” coverage of ISIL.

This includes references to it as an “organisation”, rather than a terrorist group.

An Ofcom spokeswoman said it had “passed this letter of complaint to the media regulator in Italy, where the [Arabic] channel holds its licence, for urgent consideration”. Al Jazeera Media Network did not respond to requests for comment.

The letter highlights AJA’s failure to consistently recognise ISIL as a terrorist organisation and many instances where it is granted legitimacy within reports as well as programmes featuring guests that that supportive of ISIL.

“AJA’s coverage of ISIL is undoubtedly sympathetic when compared with EU-regulated broadcasters and other responsible global broadcasters,” it said.

Among the specific segments cited was “The State Organisation documents sniper operations against Egyptian soldiers in The Sinai” broadcast on 11 April 2017.

“AJA also chose to broadcast the moment of death of an Egyptian soldier, shot by an ISIL sniper and filmed by ISIL and say that “the organisation considered their targets easy,” it said.

Another programme referred to was “The Opposite Direction: Sectarian Cleansing in Syria or Security?” broadcast on Al Jazeera Arabic on 13 September 2016.

“The host of this programme, Faisal Al Qasim interviews the General co-ordinator of the Syrian opposition forces, Abd Al Muneim Zayn Al Din, asking him why they were not fighting in Shia regions,” the submission states.

Another instance of alleged incitement was “The dangers of ISIL foreign fighters to their home countries” broadcast on 15 December 2014.

“In this programme, a 15-second message from an ISIL spokesman is included. This statement calls for attacks to be carried out against non-Muslims and calls on individuals to isolate Americans, the French or their allies and “hit his head with a stone, or slaughter him with a knife or run over him with our car or thrown him from a high building” if they are “unable to obtain a [bomb] or a bullet”.

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