Qatar exercises overwhelming influence on the editorial agenda of Al Jazeera according to Aktham Suliman, former Berlin correspondent for the network. Qatar finances the network and in a recent interview with Germany’s Deutsche Welle, Suliman gave several examples that illustrate the ways in which Qatar has flexed its muscles.
“In the case of Syria, Al Jazeera barely reported about the rebellion in the first few weeks,” Suliman said. “Back then [...] the ruler of Qatar was trying to change the Syrian president’s mind and encourage him to take certain steps toward political reform.
“When Assad didn’t respond, Al Jazeera then said: Now get to work on Syria!”
“…We at Al Jazeera were always proud to say: We’re financed by Qatar, but the state never interferes with our reporting. Now we suddenly find ourselves in a situation in which our reporting is precisely aligned with Qatari foreign policy,” Suliman said.
Suliman continued in his accusations by pointing to the biased and short-sighted reporting by the network. “In Syria, too, society is divided. You have the pro-Assad people, and those who are against him. However, when you make one side out to be mass murderers and turn the others into saints you’re fueling the conflict, not presenting the situation in an appropriate and balanced way. There are murders, injustices and good things on both sides. But you don’t see that on Al Jazeera.”
But Suliman didn’t place blame squarely on outside influences. He chalked much of the problem up to systemic issues within the organization, saying that Al-Jazeera “lacks internal structures that would immunize it against what was presumably an attempt by the owner or by the editors to interfere politically in things that should have been handled in a journalistic manner.”
The overall atmosphere, he said, lacks professionalism. “When I started in 2002, I didn’t have that impression – quite the contrary. Of course there were fundamental, long-term problems, but in the last two years Al Jazeera has really let itself go in terms of professionalism.”
Suliman even reserves some of his scorn for the Germans. When asked what he thought of the country’s media’s coverage of the Gulf states, he didn’t hesistate. “Catastrophic, scandalous, unforgivable,” he responded.