How Al Jazeera called for bombing Saudi, UAE airports ... and got away with it

An Al Jazeera Arabic presenter repeated a call for militias to target airports in Saudi Arabia and the UAE — and did not challenge it. (Screengrab)
Updated 29 August 2017
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How Al Jazeera called for bombing Saudi, UAE airports ... and got away with it

LONDON: Al Jazeera Arabic has been slammed for a lack of professionalism after airing remarks earlier this month that encouraged the killing of innocent citizens of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, amounting to what one media commentator called a “declaration of war.”
A presenter on the Qatari news channel on Aug. 9 repeated comments made by the nephew of ousted Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, calling on militias to target airports in Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
The comments were made amid the ongoing war in Yemen involving pro-government security forces and the Saudi-led coalition — which is supportive of the country’s legitimate government — and Houthi militias and those loyal to Saleh.
The Al Jazeera presenter said on air: “Yahya Mohammed Abdullah Saleh, nephew of the ousted Yemeni president, called on the Houthi militias and Saleh’s forces to target airports in Saudi Arabia and the UAE in response to the continued closure of Yemen’s Sanaa airport.
“Saleh’s nephew said in a TV interview that the situation on the ground requires all of Riyadh, Jeddah, Abu Dhabi and Dubai airports to be declared military zones (in order) for what he called the ‘Yemeni army’ to open Sanaa airport.”
Despite the highly controversial nature of such comments, and the fact that many have challenged them on social media, the story seems to have been swept under the carpet by the international media.

 

Egyptian journalist Abdellatif El-Menawy, a seasoned media executive and managing director of the Al-Masry Al-Youm media group, said that the comments were left unchallenged by Al Jazeera, marking a deep lack of professionalism.
“It is strange that a television channel claiming ‘professionalism’ broadcast such provocative statements as a declaration of war without balance (by providing) another opinion,” he told Arab News.
Commentators have pointed to the major differences in tone between Al Jazeera’s Arabic and English-language channels. The observations come in the wake of the diplomatic rift between Qatar and the Anti-Terror Quartet — Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt — over Doha’s alleged support of extremist groups.
Some have noted that Al Jazeera’s English-language station generally upholds journalistic standards and balance, while its Arabic sister station is tilted heavily in favor of Doha’s foreign policy. The fact that such comments were only taken on the Arabic channel supports that argument, many critics argue.
Yahya Mohammed Abdullah Saleh’s incendiary remarks were not repeated on Al Jazeera’s English channel, exposing the two stations’ different agendas, El-Menawy noted.
“This confirms the knowledge of channel operators (about) the public,” he said.
El-Menawy said that Al Jazeera directs certain messages to audiences via its Arabic-language station, while omitting them from the English service, as they might be subject to more international scrutiny. Al Jazeera did not respond to several requests for comment when contacted by Arab News.
The latest accusations against Al Jazeera Arabic — this time involving apparent attacks on civilians at airports in Saudi Arabia and the UAE — have not however garnered much international media coverage.
That is despite the recent attention directed toward another Gulf TV station, the Al Arabiya News Channel, for quite a similar reason.
The station recently aired a simulated video that apparently shows a fighter plane firing a missile at a civilian jet. Some viewers deemed this “beyond provocative,” according to The Independent website, based in London.
Al Arabiya said however that The Independent article was “misleading,” and that it took the report “entirely out of context” in claiming the animation showed a “Saudi fighter jet shooting down a Qatari civilian aircraft.”
“The Independent misleadingly mixed and matched different parts of the animation when describing the report,” said an Al Arabiya article dated Aug. 19.
“It merged a scene showing a fighter jet forcing a Qatari plane to leave unauthorized airspace with another that explains how international law permits a country to fire at hostile aircrafts.”
“It failed to note Al Arabiya’s distinction in the animation, which clearly showed a fighter jet tailing an aircraft with no logo in the second scene.”
“The Independent also overlooked the fact that Saudi authorities have granted emergency routes for Qatari planes for use if needed.”
Many commentators have pointed to the differences between the editorial line of Al Jazeera Arabic and the Qatari network’s English-language service.
For years after its 1996 launch, Al Jazeera had a reputation in Washington as a media outlet that gives a platform to terrorists.
After the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks in the US, Al Jazeera’s Arabic-language channel was accused of being a “mouthpiece” for Osama Bin Laden, because of its willingness to air Al-Qaeda video messages and its perceived anti-American bias.
Al Jazeera Arabic is still a “counterproductive force” in the fight against terrorism, according to David Weinberg, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a non-profit, non-partisan policy institute focusing on foreign policy and national security.
Speaking to Arab News in June, Weinberg said: “Al Jazeera routinely praises terrorists as martyrs, provided they are trying to kill Israelis — and that includes those efforts that seek to kill Israeli civilians and not the armed forces,” Weinberg told Arab News.
“Al Jazeera gives extremely favorable airtime to Iran-backed violent groups like Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, airing their propaganda without questioning and including their fighters in the list of ‘martyr’ death tolls. But Jews are never ‘martyred’ in Al Jazeera’s eyes. They are merely ‘killed’.”

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Arabic cinema wins over movie-goers

Updated 17 September 2018
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Arabic cinema wins over movie-goers

  • Oscar-nominated Saudi Arabian director Haifaa Al-Mansour premiered her short film set in Riyadh, ‘The Wedding Singer’s Daughter,’ at the Venice Film Festival
  • Earlier in the year Ziad Doueiri was the first Lebanese film director to be nominated for an Oscar with his film ‘The Insult’

LONDON: Arabic cinema has increasingly captured the imagination of movie-lovers around the world this year, with Arab film-makers winning award nominations and securing high-profile screenings at major film festivals.
This month the Oscar-nominated Saudi Arabian director Haifaa Al-Mansour premiered her short film set in Riyadh, “The Wedding Singer’s Daughter,” at the Venice Film Festival. Al-Mansour previously wrote and directed the film “Wadjda,” which was the first foreign-language Oscar entry from Saudi Arabia in 2014.
Earlier in the year Ziad Doueiri was the first Lebanese film director to be nominated for an Oscar with his film “The Insult.”
“Arab cinema’s profile has been on the rise. There are several different Arab movies being shown at Venice (film festival) this year,” said Joseph Fahim, an Egyptian film critic and the curator of this year’s London-based Safar Film Festival, which runs on Sept. 13-18.
Daniel Gorman, the director of London’s biannual Shubbak festival, which showcases mainly contemporary Arabic culture, art and film, said he that has seen the appeal of Arabic film grow in the UK.
“There is a huge interest and appetite for creative work coming from across the Arab world and there is strong interest in the UK to hear the voices of people from across the region, in an area that is generally represented in headlines in newspapers. Film is an excellent way of doing that,” he said.
Festivals have played a vital role in boosting awareness of Arab film, he said.
“(They) are able to bring new audiences to new work as they bring this concentrated moment of activity. A festival tends to have a bit more reach in terms of media coverage and audience awareness.
“(It) brings people along to something which they might not go to as a one-off screening,” Gorman said, explaining how the Shubbak festival also works with local schools and community groups to increase access to Arabic film and art.
This year’s Safar film festival — which is in its fourth year and organized by the Arab British Center — has focused on the theme of literature and film in the Arab world.
Fahim has created a program that includes movies dating back to the 1960s that have been buried deep in their respective country’s archives, as well as new films that have not been screened in London yet.
One of the films included is the Tunisian “In the Land of Tararanni,” originally released in 1973 and based on a collection of short stories by Ali Dougai.
It was one of the more tricky recordings to track down, said Nadia El-Sebai, executive director at the Arab British Center.
“There are films in this program that audiences will have no idea how many people it took to get that film,” she said, explaining the lengthy negotiations with ministries of culture, national archives and old friends and contacts to track down the much sought-after recordings.
There were other movies they had to give up on ever finding, including those lost in Syria or Iraq, or old versions of films that have not yet been digitised by national archives, she said.
More recent festival entries include this year’s Egyptian film “Poisonous Roses,” adapted from a 1990s cult novel, as well as the European premiere of the work of an Iraqi filmmaker — “Stories of Passers Through” — which traces the stories of Iraqis exiled from their country during the Saddam Hussein regime.
The literary theme of this year’s festival was chosen as a reaction to the growing popularity of contemporary Arab cinema, with the event’s organizers wanting to delve into the history of Arabic film.
“We are delighted by the increasing access to Arabic cinema. There are more films plugged into the London film festival this year. We have other other festivals — the Shubbak festival (in London), and the Liverpool Arab Arts Festival,” said El-Sebai.
“For this year’s edition we thought we would like to take the opportunity to go a little deeper into the history and heritage of Arabic cinema, and the industry,” she said.
“Safar is taking place just before London Film Festival (LFF), which was another motivation for us to look at something a bit different as we are definitely going to see really amazing contemporary films at the London Film Festival,” she said.
The LFF — which begins on Oct. 10 — is set to feature work by Syrian filmmaker Soudade Kaadan as well as the Saudi Arabian director Mahmoud Sabbagh’s latest dark comedy “Amra and the Second Marriage,” among other Arab productions.
Fahim was also keen to use the Safar event as a way of bringing audiences’ attention to a broader range of Arabic movies, highlighting the heritage of the film industry.
“It is reminding people that Arab cinema did not spring out today — there is a long history,” he said, adding that he wanted to question audience expectations.
“There have been a flood of amazing images from Arab cinema being displayed at festivals and most critics had no idea what they were. The more I spoke to people, the more I realized that there is a certain expectation of what Arab movies should be,” he said.
“We wanted to challenge what people expect from Arab cinema … I am tired of seeing Lawrence of Arabia a gazillion times on the big screen,” he said.
He said the selected films in the festival will hopefully challenge preconceptions. He referred to the inclusion of the 1964 Egyptian film — “The Search” — based on the writer Naguib Mahfouz’s novel. “It is a crime noir. It is essentially an existential noir and I don’t think many people will expect to see that,” he said.
Arabic cinema, however, needs to be better promoted, he said, noting a dearth of adequate film critics.
“At the big festivals it sometimes feels like Arab cinema is the bottom priority for critics,” he said.
“We need more perceptive writing. I could name you on one hand the film critics who know their stuff. That needs to change. Maybe we need to have more different voices. Film criticism is still being dominated by white male writers — although it has been developing — but that is still the norm,” he said.