Al-Jazeera and Selective Coverage

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Taking a look at Al-Jazeera coverage, and the conspicious absence of some events overlapping between Australia and Qatar.

While visiting my Aunt in Wollongong, one of her neighbours mentioned that he got up at 6am to watch Al-Jazeera news on SBS, where they were piping that through to their main broadcast, and that it gave an intriguingly "different" point of view.

Following his lead, I thought I might give it a watch. I was vaguelly aware of the station before that, but it made sense to give it a go. Quite apart from it being interesting, it gave my day a bit of routine, my morning fill of news.

It was certainly intriguing, a different perspective. I remember - decades ago - listening with my short wave radio to Radio Portugal, Radio Moscow and Voice of America. It was something I felt again, drinking from something both so different but also comprehensible. Their motto is "Every story, every side", and there was an intriguing critique of the West - not better, but different and engaging, emerging from that other perspective. They sure put a spotlight on dodgy happenings in the West. To be sure, there are some intriguing "lefty" critiques of the West, from within the West. But coming from a totally different origin, it still gave you something you didn't get in those "lefty" critiques. But, as time wore on, I became aware that Al-Jazeera incorporated an important and - notable at least to me - blind spot.

But, to continue with the SBS feed. Too often, SBS replaced the Al-Jazeera news with something else more they thought more important. On the one hand, it was their call. But, the problem was, they were not updating their schedule on the internet. I was making a point of checking the schedule the night before to decide whether or not to wake up early the next morning.

But, the thing was, not only did SBS pass over it, they did not update their schedule.

So, I bit the bullet. I decided to watch the show directly on the internet feed from their internet feed directly. It took a bit of figuring out that news was just one of their broadcasts, in half hour and one hour formats, and there were plenty of other shows as well. I found about how one of their journalists was locked up in Egypt, and signed their petition - figuring that while there was plenty of injustice in the world, well, I could at least do this one thing, because after all I was watching their news.

So, yes, intriguing. And they did cover some stuff about Qatar and what was going on there. Fair enough, so long as it was not excessive. I wasn\'t too fussed about bias - equally, I was not just taking them at their word.

However, there was what I considered an important story, one which received not even the smallest mention on their station. This was the story of how all the women on a flight out of Doha were intimately searched after a premature child was found abandoned in the airport bathroom in an attempt to identify the mother of the child. News reports speak of the authorities saying :

women passengers "were asked to assist" with inquiries to locate the mother of the baby

See here for example.

And it really does seem that "asking" was a gross political distortion of what must have taken place. For sure, a difficult situation. I wonder what would have happened if something like that had taken place in Australia? Still, it was an awkward situation that journalists should not shirk from covering. Al-Jazeera was never shy about covering other nations caught up in awkward situations.

Then, not too much later, there was another event. The Qatar Government suspended its subsidy to Australian Lamb, see here ... And people in Australia were wondering about whether this change was connected to the earlier diplomatic conflict.

Now, putting aside the women being physically searched, Qatar can do whatever it likes as far as trade goes. They're a sovereign nation, they can make their own choices. They made some sort of vague reply about "moving towards a self sufficient model", but it is interesting that this change has happened ahead of schedule, if there ever was indeed a schedule. And further, if you check out the DFAT website, it seems this export was in fact a live export. I've heard it said that the motivation for live export is financial, with religion being used as an excuse, really. Still, I don't have a particularly strong reaction to live animal exports, apart from shaking my head.

Again, Qatar can do what it likes. But I found it strange that there was no mention of either event - for sure, one rather more dodgy than the other - but no mention of either on their station. And I did send some tweets - noting this, with no reply.

In contrast, though, Al-Jazeera do love to cover Australian bushfires, adverse weather conditions, our response to Covid, along with a grab bag of other things. But not this quite significant interaction, of interest to Australian viewers. I'm not saying they're the most important things going on in the world, or the most significant injustices. But they certainly seemed important enough to me to warrant some coverage. In contrast, Al-Jazeera spent quite a lot of time on the thawing out of foreign relations between Qatar and other nearby countries. One of the claims by Al-Jazeera is "No matter where you call home we'll bring the news and current affairs that matter to you". Bit of a sweeping claim given the diversity that must exist in their audience. And particularly when you think about coverage on this issue, something that "matters to me" ...

For sure, I was saddened by the story of how Saudi Arabia was treating Loujain al-Hathloul, and intrigued by the coverage on Al-Jazeera, which did help with my understanding. But, it does seem that at some fundamental level, Al-Jazeera is selective, putting a spotlight on issues and problems with other countries, but coughing and looking the other way when it comes to Qatar itself.

And, in a back-handed sort of way, I'll acknowledge Qatar seems to be a reasonable sort of nation in that part of the world. Australia has its problems, for sure - and Qatar has its own, and Al-Jazeera prefers to look the other way.

When I first checked out the Al-Jazeera feed, I found out about the many other programs. For sure, Al-Jazeera does seem to validly expose global problems elsewhere, and their playing of WHO health directives is in its way refreshing. However, I'm disinclined to check out the other programs. I own the choice I made to check out Al-Jazeera news, and in spite of the problem I've seen with its coverage, I'll continue to watch it. However, I'm not going to be making any effort to watch any other programs. Al-Jazeera does not have the credibility for me to seriously take their invitations to watch their other programs.

Al-Jazeera is impressive in its way. But, it seems to me, if western media outlets have their faults, Al-Jazeera is not without its own.

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Gabreiela D'Souza wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald on page 4, May 2 2021, about her attempts to travel to Australia: "Qatar Airways had stopped flights to Australia because of a tiff with the Australian Government". This was, in fact, bigger than I thought. John August