Wednesday, 28 June 2017


Ah, Al Jazeera. I honestly never believed when I first started watching this amazing TV channel, that I would spend most of the next five years defending it, rather than just watching it. I don't regret doing it. It's just not what I thought would happen. It started with the jailing of the Al Jazeera four: Abdullah el-shami from Al Jazeera Arabic and the three people from Al Jazeera English: Peter Greste, Baher Mohammed and Mohammed Fahmy. Then there were their collegues who got charged in absentia, including Sue Turton. Now, I'm standing up for them again, after unreasonable demands from the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) and Egypt to have them shut down.

Do I want to see Al Jazeera shut down? Well, yes..........and definitely NO.

We'll start with yes.

The spat between Egypt and Qatar is no secret. Unfortunately Al Jazeera were willing to endanger their journalists to put the point across. When the AJ Staff were in Egypt, the then bureau chief Mohammed Fahmy, asked Al Jazeera time and time again if they  were legally working in Egypt. Did they have the right press passes, etc. He was told to butt out, under the pretence of, "It's all under control, Fahmy. You just do your job as Bureau Chief, and let us worry about the rest of it". Except it wasn't all under control. The company knew damn well that they were there illegally and the AJ staff got well and truly dropped in it.

In fact, Qatar were probably thrilled when the AJ four got jailed because it gave them more ammunition to criticise Egypt. The longer they were in jail, the more publicity Al Jazeera got. And when the company began the 'zipped lips' campaign, everyone began to hear of Al Jazeera, which is exactly what Qatar were after. The unfortunate thing was, millions of people were sucked in by this, assuming that they were fighting for press freedom. Yes, we were, but underneath, it was all posturing to help Qatar stab a finger at Egypt, and by following our conscience and shouting for free speech, we became actors in this shameful piece of political theatre. That's not to say I didn't believe in what I was standing for - the release of the journalists and press freedom. Of course I did. I still do, otherwise I would not even be writing this. I support those journalists even more now, knowing as I do that they were basically used as pawns.

Any company who manipulates the good conscience of people in such a major way or is so cavalier about the safety of their reporters is a disgrace to journalism and quite honestly should be shut down. But this would again be punishing the fine journalists who work there because of two opposing governments acting like five year olds in a playground.

Which leads me on to the reason why Al Jazeera should carry on broadcasting and should not be shut down under any circumstances.

Many people in the Middle East have no voice. If they speak out they are silenced, or - as the AJ Staff have discovered - jailed, and sometimes even tortured and killed for saying what they believe. Al Jazeera gives a voice to the voiceless, speaks truth to power where no-one else can and their coverage is  second to none. They have some of the most experienced and impressive journalists in the world (take a bow Kamahl Santamaria!). When the Arab Spring was taking place across the Middle East, they covered it excellently and were the voice to many of the protesters and many of the other people in the region affected by it. Al Jazeera does exactly what it is supposed to do: Shines a light and gives people a voice. It's also about speaking truth to power, which via programmes like Inside Story, it does incredibly well.

Their programmes are of the highest quality and the highest professionalism. Their history documentaries are amazing. For instance, I never knew anything about the Sykes/Picot agreement until I saw the history programme Al Jazeera made about it.

To shut down Al Jazeera English would not only be a big mistake but would also be very sad. In Egypt, the station is already banned, Al Jazeera America has also gone. Let's not see the same fate happen to the brilliant Al Jazeera English. Let's stand for up for these guys and show Saudi Arabia how amazing our collective voices really can be. I want to shout one last thing: I STAND WITH AL JAZEERA!!

"Our job as journalists is to speak truth to power, shine a light in the dark places, be a witness to history and sometimes speak up for those who have no voice" ~ Bill Neely

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