Al-Jazeera has shot itself in the foot and is it seems attempting to blow its efforts to establish itself as a channel that can easily appeal to non Muslims after five of its female presenters resigned after religious inspired harassment about their appearance.
Writing in the Evening Standard Roy Greenslade has an excellent piece on the turbulence at the Qatar-based international TV news network and how this is completely undoing any in-roads it may have made with viewers outside of the Arab-world.
He makes it clear from the start that he has been a supporter and defender of the channel as it pushed in the west to find a footing with its English language channel.
Building an audience beyond the Arab world has been a major struggle for Al-Jazeera as it has laboured to shrug off the pro-terror label it acquired in the days after 9/11. If you cast your mind back you will remember how it was accused by the US and Britain of aiding Islamic terrorists and of being the unofficial mouthpiece of Osama bin Laden and the Al-Qaeda network due to its penchant to airing statements and videos from terrorists. CNN famously ended a relationship it had with Al-Jazeera after a taped interview that the Arab network did with Bin Laden. And some US companies refused to do business with it.
Al Jazeera also earned the fury of Washington and London after it broadcast pictures showing dead and captured coalition troops during the war in Iraq including two British soldiers who may have been executed.
It has been waging a PR battle to win people over and dispel certain fixed ideas people might have about it. Last year it launched a website, aimed at extending its reach amongst American and Canadian audiences, that included a list of “Hits & Myths” — a list of seven misconceptions about the channel, with explanations refuting them.
It is going to find this current controversy involving its treatment of women much harder to PR away.
Greenslade says he has been a viewer of the station’s English language channel, which launched in 2006, and he praises its coverage of Israel’s incursion into Gaza in January last year because of the access and insight it brought which could not be replicated by the BBC and CNN.
He tells us all this so we’re clear that he does not criticise the network lightly and maintains that the channel has “added greatly to our understanding of the Muslim world”.
That says he then rightly takes it to task for its appalling treatment of its female presenters that has resulted in five resigning: Jumana Nammour (pictured), Lina Zaher al Deen, Jullinar Mousa, Luna al-Shibl and
Nawfar Afli. That’s a huge loss.
Everyone knows that women in some Muslim societies can be treated like second class citizens and much worse, but Qatar presents itself as one of the “liberal” faces of the Arab world and is supposed to have signed up to the United Nations Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women that commits it to equality. That is not however, what is happening at Al Jazeera.
“So I was astonished a couple of weeks ago to see that five of the female presenters at Al-Jazeera’s Qatar headquarters had resigned after complaining about harassment from a senior editor and a demand that they modify their dress.
“The five decided to quit after a lengthy conflict with the network’s deputy editor-in-chief Ayman Jaballah about whether their clothing and personal grooming were ‘decent’,” writes Greenslade.
The five were accused of wearing clothes that were “incongruous with Al-Jazeera’s expected strictness” and they were told to wear longer skirts, no ‚Äúsparkling or screaming colours” and hair must not “come down on the shoulders”. Take a look at the pic on this page of Jumana Nammour dressed in a brown suit. She is dressed conservatively and very similarly to how you see Mishal Husain on the BBC. Husain, who grew up in the Middle East, is one of the best known Muslim media figures in the UK.
As Greenslade right points out five resignations points to serious issue. To lose one presenter might be unfortunate, but to lose five shows this is a network at war with itself and failing to marry its desire to appeal to the west and keep conservative Islamic audiences happy.
Why would you watch a news network that treats its female news presenters in such a fashion? Al-Jazeera deserves only to be switched off.