How free is Al Jazeera? - Macleans.ca

How free is Al Jazeera?

Is the news network’s reliance on Qatari donors skewing its objectivity?

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On Aug. 4, Al Jazeera aired a documentary about protests and government brutality in Bahrain. The hour-long piece, filmed undercover, was billed as the only witness to the Arab revolution “forgotten by the West.” It featured footage of massive street demonstrations by the Gulf kingdom’s Shia majority, interviews with protesters beaten, shot and threatened with rape by security forces, and included revelations about the government’s use of state TV and Facebook to name, shame and hunt down demonstrators.

Shouting in the Dark was well-received; and Britain’s Daily Telegraph, among others, covered its release. But there are signs the network itself isn’t thrilled with the product. Bahrain is a key ally of neighbouring Qatar, Al Jazeera’s primary funder. After the documentary aired, the Bahraini government issued an angry protest. Days later, the New York Times reported, scheduled reruns were yanked.

The move raises questions about Al Jazeera’s sometimes tenuous independence: critics regularly challenge the network’s reliance on its Doha paymasters. Al Jazeera did not respond to requests for comment from Maclean’s. Shouting in the Dark, meanwhile, remains absent from its schedule.