When you take a stand as a brand, especially as a media company, you’re going to get some pushback and criticism. When you do so in the Middle East, that pushback is going to be substantial. And, often, when you don’t take a stand where you should … or if you refuse to … the consequences can be difficult to manage. Just ask Al-Jazeera.
The Arabic news network out of Qatar is taking a beating from its Gulf Neighbors at the moment. The critics there are working overtime to try to silence the network that has been challenging prevailing opinion for the past two decades.
In a blatant show of political force, a coalition of Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia, The UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt, cut ties with Qatar, accusing the country of both fomenting terrorism and using Al-Jazeera to cause trouble in the already very troubled region.
Al-Jazeera, meanwhile, says all the criticism is coming because the network presents alternative viewpoints to those preferred by the other states in the region. Critics say, no, Qatar is using Al-Jazeera to actively promote Islamist threats, specifically the Muslim Brotherhood.
A spokesman for the network denounced those allegations, calling them “false and fabricated” … and both the network and the nation remain defiant, pledging that they will not shut down broadcast in any of the 100-plus countries where they can be seen or heard.
That hasn’t stopped Qatar’s opposition from stopping signals on their own. And not just the broadcasts. Some blocked their airspace to flights to and from Qatar, and Saudi Arabia closed off the country’s only land border. Jordan forcibly shuttered Al-Jazeera offices in their country, and UAE blocked the channel inside its borders. UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Anwar Gargash, told the Associated Press the move was not about stifling the media:
“It’s not about the media… The media aspect of it is part of what I would say an overall support for extremism…”
Internationally, media and social media support for Muslim terrorism is a huge problem, from online recruitment to news coverage that is seen as supportive of and sometimes even celebratory of terrorist activity. While no specific charges have been leveled at Al-Jazeera, the general accusations are enough to create a major public relations issue for the network. Simply ignoring the accusations will not make them go away.
This is one of those cases in which silence can speak very loudly. The network has to decide, publicly, if it will allow itself to be linked to terrorism propaganda.