Al Jazeera: A ‘tragedy’ for Arab media amid soft power failure

Fawaz Gerges, professor of international relations at the London School of Economics.
Updated 05 April 2018

Al Jazeera: A ‘tragedy’ for Arab media amid soft power failure

  • Hopes were high for Al Jazeera when it was launched in 1996
  • Al Jazeera has become a “mouthpiece” for terrorists, says academic

Dubai: Al Jazeera’s “ideological” stance has been a “huge tragedy” for the Arab media industry, which has failed to bring the real Arab perspective to the world stage, a leading academic has said.
Hopes were high for Al Jazeera when it was launched in 1996, but the Qatar-based network has become a “mouthpiece” for terrorists and pursues an “ideological agenda,” said Fawaz Gerges, professor of international relations at the London School of Economics.
This has caused “tremendous damage” to the media industry as a whole, the academic said on the sidelines of the Arab Media Forum in Dubai.
“In the 1990s when Al Jazeera started, it was one of the most promising media institutions in the Arab world,” Gerges told Arab News.
“Sadly and tragically after 9/11, Al Jazeera became … a mouthpiece of Osama bin Laden.”
The academic said that the TV network had failed to become a credible media institution or source of information.
“Al Jazeera has sacrificed its institutional rubric on the altar of its ideological agenda,” he said. 
“What has happened to Al Jazeera is a huge tragedy for the Arab media … It is no longer seen by large constituencies of the Arab world as a media forum.
“You turn on Al Jazeera because you agree with Al Jazeera. It has become more and more ideologically tilted toward certain perspectives.”
Gerges said that Al Jazeera and other Arab media institutions had failed in their “soft power” push.
“We had thought that Al Jazeera could really be an institution that makes a huge difference to raise public awareness of the Arab world in terms of democracy, information and debate,” he said. 
“Sadly and tragically, particularly in the past 10 years, Al Jazeera has really done tremendous damage.”
The academic had hope, however, that journalists at media organizations across the region could help portray a real view of the Arab world.
“Arab media has failed to develop soft power influences (on) world public opinion … We have failed to put the Arab agendas, the Arab perspectives on the international stage,” he said. 
“Every journalist, every correspondent, every media person must understand that he or she has a moral professional responsibility not to simplify, not to distort, not to exaggerate.”
Al Jazeera did not respond to a request for comment when contacted by Arab News.


US broadcast agency to stop renewing visas for foreign journalists

Updated 12 July 2020

US broadcast agency to stop renewing visas for foreign journalists

  • According to VOA, approximately 76 foreign journalists are facing the possibility that their visas may not be renewed
  • The move also affects employees at other USAGM entities

DUBAI: The US Agency for Global Media (USAGM) might not renew visas for foreign journalists working at Voice of America (VOA).
The decision comes after Michael Pack joined USAGM as CEO last month, and fired the heads of four organizations: Middle East Broadcasting, Radio Free Asia, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and the Open Technology Fund. 
According to VOA, approximately 76 foreign journalists working for the organization in Washington are facing the possibility that their visas, many of which expire this month, may not be renewed.
A VOA journalist, who asked not to be named, said it could lead to the departure of more than 100 staffers in the foreign language services, reported National Public Radio (NPR). 
The move also affects employees at other USAGM entities. Currently, there are 62 contractors and 14 full time employees at USAGM who are in the US on Exchange Visitor (J-1) visas. There are 15 categories under the J-1 visa, which is essentially a non-immigrant entry permit for individuals with skills who are approved to participate in work-and study-based exchange visitor programs. It is worth noting that the J-1 is among the visas that were banned by the administration of President Donald Trump in response to the coronavirus disease pandemic, with the administration suggesting holders take jobs away from US citizens.
A USAGM spokesperson told VOA that the agency was conducting a case-by-case assessment of J-1 renewal applications, and so far none of the journalists seeking J-1 extensions appears to have been rejected outright. The spokesperson added said the visa review is aimed at improving agency management, protecting US national security and ensuring that hiring authorities are not misused.
Media organizations have spoken out against the news. “This reported decision puts the lives of intrepid, free-thinking foreign journalists at risk. Many of these journalists have worked with VOA precisely because it offers them the opportunity to report stories that they cannot tell in their home countries without risk of severe punishment,” said PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel. 
“If these journalists are forced to return home, some of them will be greeted with jail cells or worse. It is appalling that the VOA’s new boss could be so reckless about the safety of journalists who have given their talents and insights to help the US inform the global public. These journalists deserve protection, not betrayal,”
The National Press Club, which represents more than 3,000 reporters, editors and professional communicators worldwide, also spoke out. “We know of no sensible reason to deny VOA’s foreign journalists renewed visas. These men and women provide an essential service to VOA by reporting from the US and telling the American story to their audiences overseas. They have the language skills and cultural background to perform this work. They are not taking jobs away from American workers,” said its president, Michael Freedman.
At the time of publication USAGM had not responded to Arab News’ request for comment.