Once again, football is not immune from international political developments. On 15 July 2017, Reuters reported that “Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Mauritania, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt had collectively written to FIFA asking it to remove Qatar as hosts [of the 2022 FIFA World Cup]”. The aforementioned six countries allegedly called Qatar “a base of terrorism”. The move stems from the June 5 2017 decision by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, Bahrain (and later Yemen, Libya, and the Maldives) to cut diplomatic ties with the wealthy Gulf state.

The diplomatic row, no doubt, is a geopolitical move by Saudi Arabia to isolate rival Qatar for pursuing close ties with Iran and supporting Islamist politics in the Arab Spring and beyond. One of the most interesting parts of the row is Saudi Arabia’s attempt to shut down Qatar-based news network Al-Jazeera. While football fans are well aware that the Qatari World Cup is a farce—the decision to grant the competition to the Arab state was one based solely on financial concerns and not sporting concerns—they may not be aware of how important the World Cup is to Qatari soft power both regionally and globally. One other important aspect of Qatari soft power is the media company Al Jazeera (as well as Bein Sports).

The globalized world is one where media conglomerates, like CNN in the United States, rule. These “journalists” are far from the Hemingway-era muckraking journalists who risked their careers and personal safety for stories; these days journalists seem all to willing to toe the line desired by their employers. Unfortunately, Al Jazeera is no different. Take Al Jazeera’s coverage of the 15 July 2017 anniversary of last summer’s failed coup in Turkey. An opinion piece, written by Ismail Numan Telci of Sakarya University, is particularly appalling.

Mr. Telci is also a member of SETA, a pro-government think tank in Turkey. That alone should uncover the biases inherent in his piece. What is more problematic, however, is that his entire article focuses on the UAE and Egypt’s alleged support of last summer’s failed coup in Turkey. It is not a coincidence that both of these countries also recently cut ties with Qatar; Al Jazeera is opportunistically using the anniversary of the failed coup in Turkey to further Qatar’s geopolitical agenda by slamming both the UAE and Egypt. This, of course, can hardly be considered independent journalism. Instead, it is journalism designed to adhere to a certain political and ideological line.

It is yet another example of why—in the globalized world of instant news media—we must all be wary of what we read; we must remain cognizant of the inherent biases hiding in all news media. Nothing is written in a vacuum and sadly journalism is not free; Al Jazeera is an arm of Qatari soft power and that inherently limits its freedom of expression. Indeed, on Al Jazeera’s sports section there was no mention of the threat to move the 2022 World Cup, as far as I could see.

 

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Nothing To See Here…Image Courtesy Of: http://www.aljazeera.com/topics/subjects/football.html

 

Yet, because Al Jazeera is the most globalized of all Arab (or for that matter Middle Eastern) news networks, it has the greatest sway on public opinion. Neither Saudi Arabia nor Egypt have a comparable news network with international reach. While this gives Qatar an advantage in shaping the narrative of Middle Eastern politics going forward, no one should think that this coverage is “unbiased” in the manner that traditional journalism, before the advent of 24/7 news coverage, once strived to be. As for the football? It remains to be seen how Qatar will negotiate this latest setback regarding their World Cup, since allegations of slave labor in stadium building have already been well publicized…

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