The current Gulf crisis and the blockade of Qatar led by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain marks a turning point in regional diplomatic, economic and social relationships. The sudden flip toward a complete air, land and sea blockade of the small state, its leadership and its people is unprecedented in the history of the region. This is even incomparable to the so-called ambassadors’ crisis of 2014.
What is worse is that this crisis has from the outset been accompanied by an extraordinary degree of hostile media coverage by a few TV channels, newspapers and magazines within the three main protagonists.
Media outlets like Al-Arabiya, Sky News Arabia, Alriyadh, Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Okaz, Albayan and Alkhaleej, which for years have boasted of their own high professionalism, have reduced themselves to a smear campaign way below the standards expected of any responsible media organisation. They have turned into tools for ideological manipulation and sources of disinformation.
The level of ethical and professional decadence to which they have reverted reminds me of journalism’s darkest times under dictatorships. Manufacturing news, twisting facts and hyping up the psychological war against Qatar have apparently become their key objectives.
A quick scan of a few media organisations one day before the deadline set by Saudi-UAE-Bahrain for Qatar to respond to their “demands” gave the impression that their discourse is targeting an enemy state such as Israel, the brutal Assad regime or something equivalent to Daesh.
To the shock of every reasonable person in the region or beyond, however, this discourse was directed towards Qatar, a neighbouring country which is part and parcel of the Arabian Peninsula. A country which shares the same language, history and culture of the three main anti-Qatar states; and, more importantly, a country which shares the same religion and family ties between its tribes.
This is what the above mentioned media outlets had on their front pages on 2 July:
“Saudi UN envoy says Qatar insists on supporting terrorism” (alarabiya.net)
“The suspicious ties of Qatar” (alarabiya.net)
“Doha chooses refusal and the deadline ends today” (Al-Sharq Al-Awsat)
“Global companies are getting ready to leave Qatar” (Okaz.com.sa)
“Gobash: Qatari money in London is tainted with blood” (Okaz.com.sa)
“Qatar… an isolated island!” (alriyadh.com)
“International calls for FIFA to strip Qatar of the 2022 world cup” (alriyadh.com)
“Escalation is looming due to the Qatari arrogance” (alriyadh.com)
“Tamim sacrifices Qatar”. The article comes with a picture showing a ticking bomb set to explode and shattering the country. (albayan.ae)
“Qatar: between the militarisation of the cause, falsification and clinging to the icons of terrorism” (albayan.ae)
“Qatar chooses the unknown” (alkhaleej.ae)
“Arab residents: boycotting Qatar is a civil act towards a state’s juvenile attitude” (alkhaleej.ae). This article is accompanied by a large picture showing a pistol, blood and a black map of Qatar.
Just a few weeks ago such language would have been unthinkable. Furthermore, a few months ago the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) defended Qatar against Egyptian allegations of supporting “terrorism”. The same media outlets also challenged the Egyptian stance and called for all Gulf countries to stand as one body against all attempts to spread the seeds of disunity.
What has changed since then and what is this fuss all about?
It has become evident from the media hype mentioned above that the campaign against Qatar was planned well in advance and that the reasons provided after the hacking of the Qatar News Agency were nothing but excuses to act openly. The media war has been orchestrated and the said outlets did not need any refutation by the Director of Communication in the Qatari government of the allegations made against the state.
In fact, it was soon after US President Donald Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia that all possible issues of difference between the three Gulf countries were brought to the surface. Within days, Qatar was demonised.
One basic principle of professional journalism is objectivity. This virtue entails transparency and truthfulness in approaching the news, avoiding every form of exaggeration and the fabrication of facts. However, the media in this crisis have not only deviated from their mission to inform and educate the public in a professional manner, but have also turned into sources of disinformation against Qatar.
By and large, however, the media campaign against Qatar has not worked. It has failed so far because, quite simply, all of the allegations are baseless. What is evident instead, though, is that these media organisations have become the laughing stock of international public opinion and reputable professional journalists around the world.
It is hoped that the voice of reason will soon prevail and that the Arab media will aim to produce journalism worthy of the highest professional standards.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.