One of the key demands that Saudi Arabia and its allied ostracizers of Qatar have listed as preconditions for ending the little oil-rich nation’s isolation is the shuttering of its state-funded news agency, Al Jazeera.
So far, Qatar has been steadfast in its refusal to meet what Qatari Foreign Minster Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani has called Saudi Arabia’s “made-to-be-rejected” ultimatums, which also include cutting ties with Iran and no longer issuing Qatari passports to Saudi citizens.
No great friend of the press himself, U.S. President Donald J. Trump seems to be unperturbed by the Saudi attempt to disband to the Arabian Peninsula’s most important and balanced news agency.
But a threat to Al Jazeera is a threat to free press around the globe.
And a free press is as crucial and vital an element of democratic processes as transparent elections and political pluralism.
If Doha, pressured by the economic and political consequences of the multinational embargo against its government, were to cave in to Riyadh’s outrageous petition to silence the news agency, it would set a dangerous precedence for other countries to follow suit, potentially leading to the closure of any media that did not follow the party line of the government of the country where it is headquartered.
Freedom of the press is a fundamental right for all people.
In the last decade or so, it has become ever more difficult for journalists around the world to not only do their job, but to simply survive.
Here in Mexico, we are, unfortunately, abundantly aware of that fact.
In the last five years, at least 30 Mexican journalists have been gunned down while trying to report the truth, and the responsible parties have, for the most part, gone unpunished.
So, too, many of Al Jazeera’s reporters have been jailed, kidnapped and murdered while trying to cover events in Syria, Iraq, Egypt and Yemen.
Responsible journalists, who follow the standards of media integrity and diligently check their sources, are the impartial watchdogs of politicians and corporations.
They make sure that society is protected from the possible misconducts of Big Government and Big Business.
They are an essential and unreplaceable part of the interrelationship between citizens, businesses and government.
Ethical journalists help to clean up corruption and other illegal activities in the fields they cover by allowing transparency to enlighten and inform the citizenry.
They also inform the public of the platforms and civic records of political candidates, allowing citizens to make informed and educated choices when they go to the polls.
Well-researched and well-founded media reports expose social injustices and shine a light on discrimination.
Al Jazeera may not always have maintained the purest of journalistic ethics, sometimes allowing its reporters’ political biases to color their filings.
But it is clearly the most balanced and unbiased media source in the entire region, bringing reliable news and information to the Arab-speaking world.
The censoring of Al Jazeera would represent a major defeat for human rights and democratic practices throughout Muslim society and beyond.
Without the committed reporting of Al Jazeera’s devoted team of journalists, the entire world would have little or no balanced coverage of what is happening in one of the most volatile and dangerous regions on Earth.
Free speech and a free press are — or, at least, should be — the inalienable rights of all people.
Saudi Arabia has overstepped its regional influence by trying to have the media network shut down.
Journalists and news media from around the world have already expressed their unwavering support of Al Jazeera and are trumpeting Doha’s refusal to accept Riyadh’s perverse demands as an act of defiant integrity.
As the Digital Content Next association stated in its condemnation of Saudi’s arrogant attempt to obliterate Al Jazeera, “any effort to silence journalists or use news organizations as a bargaining chip is an affront to freedom everywhere.”
Thérèse Margolis can be reached at [email protected]