Will Qatar Close Al-Jazeera? Hopefully Not

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Al-Jazeera claims it has the largest audience of any broadcaster in the Arab world. It also claims that the rulers of Qatar, where it is based, allow it complete editorial freedom. Since both are almost certainly correct, it would be a tragedy if Al-Jazeera were closed as part of the diplomatic battle between Qatar and its neighbors. However, such an action is not impossible.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt have accused Qatar of having ties to terrorists. Among 13 demands given by the group , which include the shuttering of Al-Jazeera, are that it send “terrorist figures” back to their countries of origin. The Arab states would then deal with these individuals as they see fit, which probably means jailing or killing them.

Qatar has rejected the demands, and several large and influential countries have  supported those objections. However, that may not end the effort of Qatar’s neighbors to press them.

The Guardian recently pointed out that Qatar’s leader Sheikh Tamim and the ruling family may be “reluctant to continue pumping vast resources into al-Jazeera…” The broadcaster loses money, and has become a growing source of irritation with the nation’s  angry neighbors. Tamim may decide that closing al-Jazeera is a small price to pay to repair relationships which have already begun to harm Qatar financially, and will continue to do so in the future.

The threat to al-Jazeera demonstrates the problem press organizations have when they are owned by governments and not organizations or individuals. The existence of these news organizations may be determined by political whim more than their value as independent voices which report objectively on the news.

Tamim has positioned Qatar as a part of international community with ties to every Western and major Asian nation. If he takes the existence of al-Jazeera seriously, he has a chance to prove the validity of some of the values that support those ties. Or, he can show he does not take his position in the broader diplomatic world seriously