The United States likes to hold itself up as an example to the rest of the world how humankind can flourish when afforded certain freedoms. Among those freedoms is Freedom of Speech. The ability to express ourselves, even if our opinion differs from those in control of the government is a cherished right.
We see it all around us. Broadcast personalities that lambast the President. Newspaper publishers that assign cadres of investigative reporters to dig up dirt on candidates or officials they don’t like. Protestors marching in the streets or in front of the Supreme Court. In the United States people are afforded the opportunity to share their views without fear of reprisal.
It isn’t like that everywhere on the planet.
It is common for some Middle East nations to operate state-run media and use censorship to control what message gets out to the masses. In essence, they control public opinion by assuring only an approved message is circulated over the airwaves and in print.
Enter the Al Jazeera television network. Funded by the royal family in Qatar, Al Jazeera offers 24-hour news programming in Arabic (and in many places English as well), broadcast to a wide range of countries, including in those where television had previously been carefully controlled by the state. Al Jazeera’s own site says they air in more than 100 countries to more than 310 million people. Many Arab states, including Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, have vocally opposed the introduction of alternative views to their public. They perceive this “freedom of speech” as a threat to the control of their own people.
Over the years, Al Jazeera has provided news reporting and editorial views that differed from the official line of nations such as Kuwait, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and more. Middle Eastern critics have complained that Al Jazeera sensationalizes the news in order to attract higher ratings. The complaint is laughable. We all snickered when the Obama administration would belly ache about Fox News. We smile when President Trump feuds with CNN. The idea that a news network would push its own ideas and make the governing class uncomfortable is readily accepted in the West.
What would never be accepted is the government telling a broadcast network who had offended it that it must shut down. Pull the plug. Say goodnight … forever. Can you imagine the outrage if the Trump administration demanded that MSNBC go off the airwaves forever?
Yet that exact thing is happening in the Middle East. In an effort to regain sole control over the message that goes out to their nations. Saudi Arabia is leading the effort to make Al Jazeera go dark as part of a 13-point ultimatum in exchange for lifting a two-week trade and diplomatic embargo.
You may like the content offered on Al Jazeera. You may not. You may not be familiar with it at all. But regardless, you surely support the concept of a free and open media delivering its message to the broadcast world. If a broadcaster does its job well, the number of viewers, the number of advertisers and success itself will build. If not, demand will dwindle and the broadcaster will either change or vanish.
For a foreign nation or nations to hold another hostage, however, to literally blackmail them into pulling the plug on a worldwide broadcast or else face economic destruction, that’s an act of war.
Perhaps more importantly, it is an act directly opposed to the freedoms we cherish in America and which we attempt to export everywhere. The Saudis and their allies are out of line in their effort to squelch free discussion of regional and world matters on the Al Jazeera airwaves.
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