In the U.S., Soledad O’Brien and other journalists have flocked to Al Jazeera, but in the Middle East, the network for the past week has been facing a major challenge to its credibility including mass staff resignations, a raid of one of its offices, its reporters kicked out of a news conference by fellow journalists, and the arrest of some of its staffers by Egyptian security forces.
The dramatic developments are the result of widespread perceptions in Egypt and in the Arab world that Al Jazeera has shown a pro-Muslim Brotherhood slant in its reporting. With the demise of President Mohammed Morsi’s government, the channel is now facing unprecedented wrath.
Twenty-two of the network’s Cairo staff resigned on Monday. According to Gulf News, anchor Karem Mahmoud of Al Jazeera’s Mubasher Misr channel announced that the resignations were motivated by what he called “biased coverage” of the events leading up to the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood-aligned former President Morsi.
The news anchor revealed that Al Jazeera management would instruct each staff member to favor the Muslim Brotherhood in their broadcasts. According to Gulf News, Mahmoud said that “there are instructions to us to telecast certain news”.
He characterized the coverage of the Qatar-based channel as lacking in professionalism and said that “the management in Doha [Qatar] provokes sedition among the Egyptian people and has an agenda against Egypt and other Arab countries.”
In his resignation announcement, Luxor Correspondent Haggag Salama accused Al Jazeera of “airing lies and misleading viewers.”
Four additional Egyptian nationals working at the network’s Doha headquarters also resigned in protest of the “biased editorial policy” regarding the Egypt coverage, according to Gulf News.
It’s not every day you see reporters protesting the presence of colleagues at a news conference. That’s what happened on Tuesday when one Egyptian journalist stood during a press conference demanding that Al Jazeera be excluded (video below). The Associated Press reports that when Al Jazeera reporters finally walked out of the room, it was to the sound of other journalists chanting “Out! Out!”
At the press conference, the military was presenting its version of what occurred early Monday morning when dozens of Muslim Brotherhood protesters were killed outside the Republican Guard headquarters in Cairo.
On Wednesday, just hours after Morsi was ousted by the army, security forces raided Al Jazeera’s Cairo offices. Reuters reports that at least five staffers were detained and that the network was prevented from broadcasting a pro-Morsi rally.
Karim El-Assiuti told Reuters that some of his colleagues were arrested while they were in the middle of covering the breaking news event.
According to Al Jazeera, Ayman Gaballah who is director of Al Jazeera’s Mubasher Misr had to post bail of 10,000 Egyptian pounds ($1,480) after spending two days in custody.
Al Jazeera condemned the raid in a statement released Thursday. “Media offices should not be subject to raids and intimidation. Journalists should not be detained for doing their jobs,” said Al Jazeera’s acting director general, Mostefa Souag.
Other news bureaus perceived to be pro-Morsi were also raided in Cairo last week.
According to Lebanon’s Daily Star, the public has taken to calling the news network derogatorily “Al Jazeera Ikhwan,” which means “Al Jazeera Brotherhood.”
Sultan al-Qassemi, a widely-followed media commentator from the United Arab Emirates tells the Daily Star, “Al-Jazeera Arabic in 2011 was squarely on the side of the anti-government [anti-Mubarak] protesters, today the channel is notorious for being the mouthpiece of the Brotherhood party.”
As the coup drama unfolded last Wednesday, al-Qassemi tweeted that on-air guests were slamming the network. “Al Jazeera Arabic anchors, one after the other, [are] defending themselves from accusations of pro-Brotherhood bias (which are true) by guests,” he wrote.
“Al Jazeera Arabic went from being the channel of the regime with unrivalled [sic] access to having its offices shut down within a few hours” he also tweeted.
The political backdrop of the backlash Al Jazeera is facing is rooted in Qatar’s strong ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, having provided $8 billion in aid to Morsi’s government over the past two years, with $3 billion transferred just two months ago, according to the Daily Star.
Raphael Lefevre, a Cambridge University expert on the Muslim Brotherhood tells the Daily Star, “The Qatari channel put a strong emphasis on interviews with the leaders and members of the opposition and in this respect clearly gave Muslim Brotherhood movements throughout the region a public visibility they previously lacked.”
Lefevre also points out that the channel aims its programming at “conservative Sunni constituencies” like the Brotherhood, offering shows such as the popular “Shariah and Life” hosted by hardline cleric Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi.
Media analyst Qassemi on Monday tweeted the link to this YouTube video explaining that it shows how “Egyptian journalists expel Al Jazeera Arabic Cairo bureau chief from press conference.” A military spokesman behind a sea of microphones is seen trying to restore order among the emotional journalists. Here is the video: