I was surprised to find that al-Jazeera’s coverage of the Egyptian uprising was of much higher quality than that of more traditional western news sources. Colby Cosh also thought al-Jazeera far exceeded the efforts of CNN and Fox News, among others:
. . . al-Jazeera seemed, for a moment, to be living up to its promise as a bridge between the Arab world and the West — if not transcending that promise and becoming something greater; a tribune of the Arab peoples and their neighbours; an influential, omnipresent witness of precisely the sort that the students in Tiananmen Square lacked; and, perhaps, one of the world’s essential institutions of news.
That potential is still there. The world is certainly a very much better place with al-Jazeera than without; it would be better still with five al-Jazeeras. But the time has come to raise a abstruse, nitpicky ethical point that reflects back on some of the Western journalists who have gone to work for al-Jazeera, and some of the Western leaders who have praised it so effusively. It’s this: is it quite all right for a news agency to have its own army?
I ask because it is a little difficult to disentangle al-Jazeera, which is owned by the Qatar Media Corporation, from the autocratic Qatari state. Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani is as nice as absolute dictators get — a man arguably in the tradition of the enlightened despots of Europe’s quite recent past, who shared outstanding personal qualities, a common commitment to education and equality, and a dedication to advancing liberal ideals, albeit by undemocratic means. It’s traditional, in enlightened autocracies, for the required oppression to officially be deemed temporary, and for this pretence of temporariness to be kept up at all costs. Official U.S. sources, keen on avoiding offence to an important ally, advance Qatar’s claim to already be a “constitutional monarchy”.