Qatar is considering privatizing al-Jazeera because of relentless US pressure and an advertising boycott by Arab countries offended by its critical coverage.

Ernst and Young has been hired to look into “possible privatisation models.”

In response to U.S. State Dept. accusations that Al-Jazeera is “giving a platform to people who are calling for violence,” Hafez al-Mirazi, an Egyptian who runs the channel’s Washington bureau, says:

: “The US must know that the country [Qatar] hosting their airbase is not funding al-Qaida. They just have a problem with us showing any civilian casualties in Iraq.”


Mr Mirazi, who previously worked for Voice Of America, added: “The White House has been spoilt by Fox News. The current administration is unusually sensitive to any criticism. The situation now is ‘either you’re just like Fox, or you’re against us’.”

[………………]


Some say the station represents a big step forward for Arab democracy, which Washington advocates. Mouafac Harb, director of al-Jazeera’s less popular US-funded rival, al-Hurra, said: “Al-Jazeera has hijacked the role of the mosque as the primary source of information and views. Al-Jazeera is the only political process in the Middle East.”

The Guardian reports that staff members are worried :

Reporters at the station fear that if the channel is privatised commercial pressures could force it to tone down its coverage.


Al-Jazeera’s coverage of politics has embroiled Qatar in disputes with almost all of its neighbours, including Saudi Arabia and Iran.


Reporters fear that the power of advertisers and shareholders could lead to self-censorship if the channel is privatised. Because of its taboo-breaking coverage al-Jazeera has an audience of some 35-40 million but attracts few advertisers.


Privatization might, however, create a station more hostile to the U.S.:

In a region where there is intense anti-US sentiment a private-sector al-Jazeera could well be more critical of the superpower. [The station might even be sold to Saudi Arabia.]


At present the station invites US officials to put forward their point of view. Hugh Miles, the author of Al-Jazeera: How Arab TV News Challenged The World, said: “They have shown five hours of bin Laden’s speeches in total – and 500 hours of Bush.”


Ah yes. There it is again. The unintended consequences of the Bush administration’s relentless bullying: A more anti-American station than the present-day Al-Jazeera.

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