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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)
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’.”