Monday, January 24, 2011

From Fourth Estate to Fifth Column (What the Palestine Papers reveal about the Guardian)

CiF Watch
23 January '11

Related background: Al Jazeera: Introducing The Palestine Papers

When one says Al Jazeera, one says Qatar, or more precisely, the Emir of that autocratic state – Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani. Qatar is a family business; an undemocratic state-run by one tribe. Unelected, unaccountable and all-powerful, its current leader came to power by staging a coup against his own father in 1995 whilst the latter was on holiday in Switzerland. Ironically, the father had used the same method to gain power himself in 1971.

Political parties are outlawed in Qatar, where the leader always knows best. The partly elected Municipal Council (one-third of its members are appointed by the Emir) has succeeded in initiating such dramatic reforms as a major overhaul in the method used to calculate fines for traffic offences.

In 1996 the Emir issued a decree ordering the establishment of Al Jazeera which came with a five-year budget of $137 million. At least until 2005 it was still receiving financial aid from the Qatari government which also owns some of its shares. In a region of the world in which illiteracy is high and therefore newspaper circulation low, most people get their news from satellite TV. In Arab countries Al Jazeera is free; viewers only need to buy a satellite dish –often a wedding gift of choice – for around $100 in order to receive broadcasts.

Often at the centre of controversy, Al Jazeera has seen one of its journalists imprisoned in Spain after being found guilty of collaboration with Al Qaida, another exposed as being on the payroll of the Saddam Hussein regime, has had frequent spats with the Palestinian Authority already and will be remembered by Israeli readers for its aiding Hezbollah during the Second Lebanon War.

(Read full "From Fourth Estate to Fifth Column (What the Palestine Papers reveal about the Guardian)")

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