Egypt Independent

Opinion: Boycotting Al Jazeera is not the answer



Two weeks ago I read the news that my friend Mohamed Nour Farahat, a law expert, had blamed me for making an appearance on Al Jazeera. On his Twitter account, he said: "Your scientific and political history are too good for you to appear with questionable figures on Al Jazeera Mubasher [Misr] to discuss issues brought up by the media that serve a specific agenda against Egypt." 

"Even if your talk was balanced," he went on, "the truth will be lost in the midst of those devils. Sending across a media message is about taking a position."

Since I am not a fan of social media, I acknowledged my friend's right to reproach me. Reproach from friends is acceptable – even desirable – to point out a mistake and prevent further mistakes. That was it. However, the issue was brought up again because of Al Jazeera's coverage of the developments in Egypt following the 30 June protests. The channel hosted a group of Egyptian writers and media professionals, of whom I was one, to comment on the ongoing events from the channel's studios in Doha.

It seems clear that the vast majority of Egyptians feel that Al Jazeera's coverage of these events has been unprofessional since it is entirely biased towards the Muslim Brotherhood. In fact, Egyptians seem to be too angry with Al Jazeera to the extent that some describe those who participate in its shows as "traitors," even if they go on to express a point of view contrary to that of the channel.

I am not opposed to the point of view which says that Al Jazeera, and particularly Al Jazeera Mubasher Misr, is biased towards the Brotherhood and their supporters and is, therefore, totally unprofessional. This bias becomes all the more clear by following Al Jazeera's coverage, reports and investigative work – or simply watching how its presenters direct discussions and debates.

We expressed that point of view very frankly to the channels' officials when we met them, even in the presence of Qatari Prince Tamim who met with all the Egyptian figures who were taking part in the discussion. That discussion lasted two hours.

Is the solution to boycott Al Jazeera, like some demand? I do not think so. It does not resolve the issue for those who believe that 30 June was an uprising, of whom I am one, to boycott a platform like Al Jazeera.

When Ibrahim Helal, the head of news at AlJazeera and a graduate of Cairo University's political science department, contacted me to come to Doha for a week to take part in their coverage of the events I understood that he was seeking to strike a balance between the two points of view. I learned that he invited voices from the other side of the argument. Even though the experience was novel for me, I did not hesitate to take part, thinking of it like a battle that I could neither withdraw from nor evade.

I admit, there were moments when I felt frustrated due to their clear bias towards the Brotherhood's views. Nevertheless I believe the overall experience was rewarding and worthwhile, regardless of the outcome. I am not opposed to other people's right to call for a boycott against Al Jazeera, however, I believe the claim that just appearing on the channel's programmes amounts to treachery is simply an unacceptable act of one upmanship.

I hope proponents of this view realise that away from expressing reservations about the channel's recent performance, Al Jazeera remains the prime source of information for the Arab world and so boycotting it would be of no use. It's better to exploit that platform in order to voice different views and opinions.

Hassan Nafaa is a professor of political science and head of the political science department at Cairo University. He is a specialist on international relations and Middle East politics.