419Published on February 3, 2021
Barrister Shah Ali Farhad:
Al Jazeera (“AJ”), the Doha based news network, is no stranger to controversy. They have been banned by multiple countries, and have received sanctions and/or faced legal challenges in others. From the Middle East to South Asia, the allegations range from indirectly spreading the supremacist ideology of Muslim Brotherhood (“Muslim Brotherhood controls Al Jazeera, says former Qatari PM in new leaked recording”, Al Arabiya, 23 June 2020) on the one hand, to outright acting as spokespersons for terrorist organisations on the other (“Al Jazeera continues to provide a platform to bigoted and violent extremists”, Arab News 26 May 2020).
There are credible allegations of instigating ‘regime change’ and violent agitation against AJ in various countries too. So far, India, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, Jordan and Israel have all restricted their broadcast and/or limited their work in their territories (“The Countries Closing Ranks on Al Jazeera”, The Atlantic, 8 August 2017). They are also accused of duplicity, using pro-human rights language in their English outlets, while using their Arabic language outlets for spreading radical ideologies and anti-semitic propaganda (“Be careful of Al Jazeera, NAS Daily, 22. October 2020).
AJ’s fondness for the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) is also demonstrated for ‘sister parties’ of the MB, like the Jamaat E Islami (“Jamaat”) in Bangladesh. This was made abundantly clear from the coverage of the network of Bangladesh’s war crimes trials set up in 2009. They made no secret of their agenda to malign the trials and became a safe haven for such agents and apologists of accused war criminals like British barrister and lobbyist Toby Cadman, controversial blogger and journalist David Bergman, and several other London based lawyer-activists of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Jamaat E Islami. Unflattering headlines, highlighting defence statements at the cost of completely disregarding the narratives of the victims of serious crimes, and making mountains out of molehills as regards procedural issues, were some of the strategies they used to serve their purpose.
Their principal preoccupation in covering the trials seems to have been the need to establish the narrative that the trials did not conform to international standards and thereby the accused, especially the ones belonging to BNP and Jamaat, were not receiving free and fair trials. They even became part of the agenda to downplay the scale of the genocide committed against the Bengalis in 1971 by the Pakistani Army and their local collaborators belonging to mainly to Jamaat E Islami and their student wing Islami Chatro Shangha (now known as Islami Chatro Shibir).
In one of their reports (“What’s behind Bangladesh’s war crimes trials?’, 3 November 2014), they stated that the number of people killed during the 1971 genocide in Bangladesh was 300,000-500,000, when in reality, the official figures include three million killed, more than 200,000 women raped and 10 million forcibly displaced to India as refugees. When challenged, AJ stated that their source in this regard was David Bergman! It should be noted that Bergman himself was convicted of contempt of court by the International Crimes Tribunal-2, for distorting the official death count of the genocide and undertaking historical revisionism (“Bangladesh court convicts British journalist for doubting war death toll”, the Guardian, 2 December 2014).
AJ has also demonstrated their obvious bias against the current government in Bangladesh led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Apart from the obvious implications which can be drawn from their position vis-a-vis the war crimes trials, there were other instances splitting their biased views wide open, such as their coverage during the violent agitation of the radical Islamist group Hefazate Islam in Dhaka, Bangladesh in May 2013.
In one of their reports (“Bangladeshi clerics fight atheist bloggers”, 8 April 2013), they termed the country’s progressive and secular online activists as “atheist bloggers”. Subsequently, during the radical group’s most violent presence in the capital Dhaka on 5 May 2013, in a report, they spread the unsubstantiated claim that the law enforcement actions resulted in more than 50 deaths of protestors (“Video suggests higher death toll, AJ, 14 May 2013). Around seven years have passed since then. Neither have they been able to produce any credible evidence for their claims nor did they retract their falsehood.
The most recent example of AJ’s bias against the current government in Bangladesh and their one-sided reporting came in the documentary confusing titled ‘All the Prime Minister’s Men’ (aired on 1 February 2021). Despite there being no discernible links between the Prime Minister and the subject of the documentary, i.e. alleged illegal, immoral or unethical acts and/or words, they put the phrase ‘Prime Minister’ deliberately in the title simply to malign a highly respected and loved political leader of Bangladesh.
By the same token, one of the central figures in the documentary, David Bergman, is introduced as a ‘South Asia Analyst’, when in reality he is the son in law of Dr. Kamal Hossain, the chief coordinator of Bangladesh’s main opposition alliance ‘Jatiyo Oikyo Front’ (roughly translated to National Unity Front). This is a major red flag regarding his credibility and should have been specifically mentioned. It was not, however, at any point in the documentary. His personal and political vendetta and/or connection (indicated above) was also completely disregarded.
AJ has played a very questionable role as regards major political events in Bangladesh in the last one decade. They have demonstrated their bias, made no secret of their allegiances, and regularly flaunt being a safe haven for anti-Bangladesh and anti-Awami League figures. They might masquerade as a news network, but in reality, they are nothing but a propaganda machine for MB, their global allies, and of course, extremism.