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How Al-Jazeera skews its coverage of Egypt

August 23, 2013

By Abdallah Schleifer

Many years ago, when I was a producer-reporter for NBC News based in Beirut, then Cairo, and would lecture at universities in the United States, I would be asked the same question: Why did national TV news coverage – from NBC, CBS, ABC and eventually CNN – resemble each other so much, except for the rare scoop?

The implication was that there might be early morning conspiratorial meetings to determine a common coverage agenda. My answer then was that professional journalists, regardless of personal political views, generally shared a common sense of which events had news value and which did not.

Even in more recent years, with the rise of Fox News and its penchant for editorializing from the right, and then MSNBC from the left, but rarely by ignoring a newsworthy event.

Polarized view of Egypt

The rise of independently operated private satellite channels had a positive impact in the Arab world from the late 1990s, forcing state-owned channels who were losing audiences to start providing actual coverage from the field and somewhat tone down their partisanship.

That began to change in the last couple of years, when Al-Jazeera’s oldest Arabic-language channel and its local Egyptian satellite operation Al-Jazeera “Mubasher” increased the existing tendency to cheerlead for one side in the Arab Spring upheavals taking place in Syria and Egypt. That bothered me, even though my personal sympathies, tentatively at that time, were in accordance with the station. It should be noted that Al- Jazeera English, however, appeared to operate with considerably more detachment.

Yet there was an increasingly bitter tone in what could be called a polarization in both local print and TV news coverage in the days leading up to the Egyptian army’s intervention, or coup. That polarization collapsed when the military closed down Muslim Brotherhood media and channels sympathetic with it. This caused a crisis at Al-Jazeera Mubasher, where about 20 Egyptian staff had already resigned because of its overt partisanship.

One-sided coverage

Then something changed, Al-Jazeera English started to diverge from the news values it previously shared with channels broadcast by the likes of the BBC and France 24.

This was mirrored by Al-Jazeera English’s sister Arabic station. I have heard numerous criticisms of the Al Arabiya News Channel for its perceived bias against the Muslim Brotherhood, but the fact remains that Al Arabiya (of which this website is part) stands alongside Sky News Arabia and BBC Arabic in its coverage of Egypt. On the other side of the fence is Al-Jazeera Arabic, alone in its apparent support of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Evidence of this is available by simply turning on one’s TV set and flicking through the above-mentioned channels. Read more in Al Arabiya.

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