Foreign Policy Blogs

You Cannot Silence Al Jazeera

It has been a full year since a quartet of Arab countries – the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt – tried to silence Al Jazeera as part of their subsequent 13 arbitrary demands: demands that specifically included shutting down our news network, Al Jazeera.

This particular demand is absurd, given that Al Jazeera has endured as one of the only beacons for free press in the region, maintaining a level of award-winning journalism unattainable by the region’s state-controlled media outlets.

If you want to understand the eagerness these Arab leaders have for shutting down Al Jazeera, you need only to understand how most of media works in the Middle East. Truth drowns beneath the preservation of these crowns. While many Arab leaders parade a vision of modernization in the West, they brutally crack down on dissenters in their country and those they claim are in their “backyards.” They shut down news media outlets seeking to curtail any hint of criticism or opposition, seeking a return to the pre-Al Jazeera period of sycophantic parroting of the party line.

When Al Jazeera first came on the scene over two decades ago, our network broke the stranglehold on state propaganda and gave a platform for independent news, opposing views and untold stories in the region, following what true journalism teaches – to bring all points of view to a story and let audiences decide for themselves. Our uncompromising pursuit of the truth and raw reality on the ground has made Al Jazeera loved by its audiences, but hated by many governments.

Al Jazeera has refused to be silenced, not only continuing to deliver breaking news across the globe but also standing with our media brothers and sisters across the globe in demanding press freedom for all, using the #DemandPressFreedom to sustain global momentum on these efforts. In collaboration with press freedom organizations and initiatives, we continue to demand the release of Reuters journalists in Myanmar as well as those incarcerated in Egypt, Mexico, Afghanistan among others, including our very own Mahmoud Hussein, who has been held in solitary confinement in an Egyptian prison for 534 days. He has yet to be formally charged.

While Al Jazeera remains blocked in the quartet countries, with heavy fines and possible imprisonment for those accessing the channel through VPN, other governments and interest groups seek to impose regulations to curtail press freedom. However, this has been the case since we first broke the status quo back in 1996. Since then, our journalists have been threatened, imprisoned, tortured, and killed, our offices have been bombed, our signals have been blocked, our websites hacked, and our social media accounts taken down. But we have endured and will continue to endure.

In the midst of the call to close us down, a 2017 report by US News and World Report, in partnership with the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School noted that Al Jazeera operates in one of the most media free environments in the region and “…has gone on to become one of the most popular channels in the Middle East.” This year alone, Al Jazeera journalists have won Peabody awards and accolades at the New York International Television and Film Festival and the United Nations, among other institutions. In the past the network has won several hundred journalism awards including an International Emmy.

Shutting down independent free media because it does not tow the government line is uncivilized, backwards, and oppressive. At a time when more dialogue is so desperately needed across the world, to be voiceless is to be powerless. But that is what some of the most powerful leaders in the world are attempting to do right now; silence the media, silence the people.

If we’ve learned anything in all our triumphs and tribulations, it is that you cannot silence the people for long. You cannot take away their experiences, dreams, stories and opinions. They will be heard and we will continue to be a messenger for them.

As we mark a year since the Arab quartet demanded we be shut down and silenced, we celebrate another year of courageous journalism and a steadfast commitment to press freedom in the region and across the globe.

Abdulla Al Najjar is the Executive Director of Global Brand and Communications at Al Jazeera Media Network.