Tag Archives: Al Jazeera
As a blog with a birthdate of 1st January 2011, mediolana.wordpress.com has been primely positioned to comment on the Arab Spring, a process of uprisings, revolutions and revolts that, despite engendering grassroots-led regime change in Egypt, Tunisia and (perhaps to a more debatable extent) Libya, still appears only to be in its initial stages: the recent free elections in Tunisia will doubtless be the first in a series of of many in the region’s nascent democracies. Yet as spectacular as the overthrows of the likes of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak were, this week has seen a development concerning democratisation in the Arab world that is arguably even more significant, though it has attracted little attention: the announcement of economic and political liberalisation – including legislative council elections – in the tiny, natural gas-saturated emirate of Qatar.
Qatar – or Dawlat Qatar, to give it its full Arabic title – has, in recent years, been pursuing a multitude of initiatives designed to make it an active and respected player on the global stage. While, like many similarly-endowed nations, this has had the effect of spawning some vanity projects, Qatar is no Disney creation: massive investment in education, the acquisition of some impressive overseas assets and genuinely ambitious foreign and cultural policies have all featured prominently in the Qatari mix. But despite the remarkable, taboo-breaking news network that is Al Jazeera being headquartered in Doha, few had anticipated that Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the Emir of Qatar, would be yielding any concessions in a kingdom in which there was virtually no popular pressure for reforms of any kind: with an estimated 2010 GDP per capita of US$88,222.51, the main question on the minds of most Qatari nationals is not where their next meal is coming from, but the precise identity of their forthcoming purchase at Harrods – a department store that happens to be one of Sheikh Al Thani’s many worldly possessions. Yet change, even in Qatar, is the watchword.
This development is of potentially immense significance for at least two reasons:
1. The GCC Factor. As a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Qatar’s moves towards idealised norms of governance and management is likely to raise more than a few eyebrows amongst fellow GCC members such as Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, both of which are already spooked by the departure of longstanding dictators elsewhere in the Arab world. Once one GCC member adopts a democratic system – Kuwait’s parliamentary system does not have much cachet beyond its borders – the pressure for others to do likewise is likely to snowball. And given that the GCC possesses unfathomable amounts of wealth in the form of hydrocarbon reserves and state-owned investment funds, the prospect of these assets being subject to some kind of scrutiny and popular control is an intriguing one.
2. Qatari Leadership. By embracing reform before it is foisted upon it, Qatar is likely to become not merely a credible country in the eyes of the wider world but the agenda setter in its immediate region; in times of need, Washington and Brussels may in the future be at least as likely to pick up the telephone on Doha as Riyadh. Neighbouring countries could then face a curious paradox: to regain influence and power, it would be necessary to imitate Qatar, but in doing so the ruling elites would have to cede authority to non-elite groups, in the process eroding their personal privileges.
From time to time, we at Mediolana get posed the seemingly eternal question: whither the economy? Sometimes the best course of action is to point the questioner in the direction of the ostensibly omnipresent Nouriel Roubini, that stalwart of the Stern School of Business at New York University and, like this company’s chief blogger, one of the very few commentators to note – during the ‘perpetual boom’ years of the mid-2000s – that all was not well with the global economy. Professor Roubini has recently composed a masterful analysis for Al Jazeera – one evincing his usual, tight prose – entitled Is capitalism doomed?
Roubini believes that ‘Great Depression 2.0′ may well be upon us shortly owing to a number of factors, including high oil prices and the psychological, ecological and physical devastation afflicting Japan. But the leitmotiv of his article is the central paradox confronting Western economies: the United States, the eurozone and the United Kingdom are all not merely experiencing slow or negative growth, but are seemingly bankrupt in terms of policy prescriptions; in Roubini’s words, ‘[Western policymakers] have run out of rabbits’. Particularly sobering in this respect is the fact that the American administration’s combination of a second round of quantitative easing and US$1trn in tax cuts – a desperate card to play in virtually any context – did not produce any significant economy-wide gains in the United States.
Extrapolating from Roubini’s perspicacity, Mediolana would proffer the following thoughts on the general direction of the global economy:
1. Western Stagnation. At least in the medium-term, the structural economic problems in the West are unlikely to be solved anytime soon. The eurozone crisis could conceivably dominate the EU for the first half of the current decade and beyond, and should Italy or Spain need bailing out then all bets are off concerning the ultimate status of the euro itself. The United States looks to be in an even worse predicament, with its transformation from hyperpower to fading world power well underway. In both regions, the awesome levels of debt now in play threaten to choke off any return to economic growth as we know it; sovereign governments are essentially being used as guarantors of the debts of the financial sector, leading one to question what form of capitalism is actually being practiced here.
2. Eastern Promise. Fast-emerging economies such as China, India, Turkey and Indonesia are posting hugely impressive growth rates – all four of these countries are scheduled to enjoy GDP growth of between approximately 6% and 10% this year – and have remained at least relatively immune from the contagion sweeping the EU and the United States, despite having intimate trade ties with these regions. This may change as the financial crisis in the West deepens, but emerging economies such as these boast massive potential for development of their own internal markets – a significant trump card in a period of pronounced global instability.
Here at Mediolana, we’re not too displeased with the performance of this fair WordPress.com blog: in a blogosphere saturated with hundreds of millions of outpourings, a stellar Technorati rating and a burgeoning readership is something to contemplate with at least a small degree of joy. However, nothing prepared us for this week’s statistics, which saw a seismic traffic spike headed our way.
Who were these new readers, and where had they come from? A little detective work later, and the source of all the extra exposure was revealed: none other than the Facebook page for fabled Al Jazeera English (‘AJE’) correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin. One of his many obsessional devotees had seen this blog’s 30th March 2011 post, where we hypothesised that part of the reason behind AJE’s dizzying rise is their correspondent mix, with Mohyeldin very much to the fore; we went so far as to compare the supremely photogenic and charismatic Mohyeldin with near-fictional Portugal and Real Madrid footballer Cristiano Ronaldo.
However, such was the increased popularity enjoyed by this blog that we are now wondering whether we sold Ayman short: the effect was more akin to what we assume would be generated by a post on a certain minor deity seeing out his playing days at Los Angeles Galaxy. Which leaves us with three questions that need answering:
1. Is Ayman Mohyeldin the new David Beckham?
2. Do Al Jazeera English sell the equivalent of replica shirts for their correspondents?
3. Will the Egyptian Revolution of 2049 have its epicentre in Midan Mohyeldin?
While in recent times the role of Doha-based broadcaster Al Jazeera in catalysing political change has been a much observed phenomenon, relatively few people are even aware that Xinhua – which began life as the Red China News Agency in 1931 and which is presently owned by the Chinese state – launched an international, English language 24- hour news channel in July 2010: CNC World.
This may not ordinarily be of much significance: China has had an English medium channel since the September 2000 launch of China Central Television‘s CCTV International – now named CCTV News – and it is safe to say that this outlet, with its reputation for repetition of the Communist Party of China (‘CCP’) line, has not exactly pushed the broadcasting envelope. However, CNC World promises to be different: Chinese media officials have stated that CNC World will be ‘an unbiased global news network that offers objective, comprehensive, in-depth and multi-dimensional news coverage and an alternative source of information for the global audience.’
This is a remarkable goal because it reflects a realisation that notwithstanding the fact that the PRC languishes in 171st place out of 178 countries in the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index 2010, on the international stage Chinese media needs to be perceived as objective in order to be credible. And this in turn leads to a beguiling paradox: if CNC World wishes to be a credible news outlet, this will inevitably involve giving airtime to dissenting voices from within China; however, this risks increasing internal instability, which is anathema to the sensibilities of the CCP. Conversely, CNC World could end up resembling channels such as RT or Press TV – networks which carry some interesting and valuable programming but which are not generally regarded as fully trusted sources – but then its ability to shape the international news agenda would be highly circumscribed.
Al Jazeera first aired on 1st November 1996; within fifteen years it has had an impact beyond even the most idealistic journalist’s fantasies. In 2025, will CNC World be looked at in a similar light?
When on 2nd March 2011 the present US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton drew attention to the success of the international news channel Al Jazeera English (‘AJE’), this was no small tribute given that she is a public figure in a country where AJE is all but unavailable to most television viewers, possibly for political reasons.Via the Internet, however, millions of Americans have tuned in to AJE, with viewership spiking during the recent upheavals in North Africa and the Middle East.
But what explains the success of Al Jazeera English? The Doha-based station’s possible comparative advantage in covering the revolutionary events in its own backyard is an insufficient explanation, with at least five other factors being critical to its rise:
1. The decline of the US news networks. Channels such as MSNBC, Fox and even CNN have become bedevilled by corporatism and obviously subjective coverage. This trend reached a stunning apex during the Iraq War, and its effects could clearly be seen on American public opinion: according to an October 2003 University of Maryland study, 69% of US mainstream media viewers believed that Saddam Hussein was involved in the 11th September, 2001 attacks. Given this reality, it is difficult to dismiss Noam Chomsky’s allegations about much of the US media fulfilling a mere propaganda function when it comes to certain issues; ultimately, this lack of credibility has made easy the passage of new entrants into what should be a difficult market.
2. Representativeness. Al Jazeera English gives prominent coverage to events in far-flung territories which would almost never normally grace Western television screens except briefly and through a ‘national interest’ prism. AJE’s coverage of the 2010 Colombian presidential election – a contest in a fascinating, large and unfashionable country – is typical in this regard. The result is that watching Al Jazeera English is the closest approximation to watching the world’s local channel.
3. Alternative voices. The usual suspects of former politicians and representatives of the military-industrial complex are noticeably thin on the ground as guests on AJE, which gives a stage to many gifted people who lack either the connections or the ideological ‘rectitude’ to garner appearances on most Western outlets. The fact that the luminously hyperbolic and incisive financial analyst Max Keiser is given significant airtime on the channel is indicative of its willingness to give space to those outside of the mainstream; in doing so, it is redefining that same ‘normality’.
4. Correspondent mix. Al Jazeera English presently possesses an excellent range of correspondents. Ayman Mohyeldin, whose coverage of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution will live long in the memory, is arguably the Cristiano Ronaldo of broadcast journalism; at the other end of the spectrum, the transmogrification of Anita McNaught from her unremarkable BBC persona into a correspondent of sublime allure and poise is something to behold. AJE journalists often evince considerable local knowledge, charm and sensitivity; a potent mix.
5. The Qatari paradox. Like any news channel, Al Jazeera English is subject to commercial and editorial pressures, but being formed and based in Qatar – a miniscule desert emirate of around 1.7m people – means that it is almost certainly never going to be utilised for projecting influence in the same way as, say, networks located in a waning hyperpower such as the United States. Indeed, both AJE and its sister Arabic-language channel have been arguably the key catalysts for democratisation in the Middle East and North Africa, despite being headquartered in an absolute monarchy; this alone shows a certain independence of spirit which characterises what is fast becoming one of the most respected and admired news outlets in world.