Qatari-owned al-Jazeera has responded angrily to the latest round of Saudi demands issued to Qatar as conditions for ending a blockade against the nation, which as with the previous demands included a demand that al-Jazeera be immediately and permanently shuttered.
Al-Jazeera insisted the demand, which called for the closure of all Qatari media outlets forever, was an attempt to silence freedom of expression, and an attempt to suppress peoples’ right to information. They called on the region to end the siege of journalists, and allow them to operate free of intimidation.
That’s not really how things have historically worked in the Middle East. Al-Jazeera has been very atypical in a region of heavy censorship since its founding in 1996, and indeed much of its initial staff came from the Arabic-language BBC, which had been shut down because they couldn’t comply with mounting Saudi censorship demands.
Al-Jazeera officials noted that such a demand would be considered absurd elsewhere in the world, comparing it to Germany demanding that Britain shut down the BBC. Yet in the Middle East, both Saudi Arabia and Egypt’s military junta are so used to having not only broadly repressive control over their media, but heavy influence in forcing the censorship of other nations’ media, they imagine the demand to shut down al-Jazeera, and Qatari media in general, as fully in keeping with the way things work.