Al-Jazeera slightly changes tone on Egypt
Feature by BBC Monitoring on 20 November
The pan-Arab broadcaster Al-Jazeera TV appears to be slightly shifting its focus on Egypt.
Financed by the tiny oil-rich Gulf state of Qatar - in the past a strong supporter of deposed Islamist President Muhammad Morsi - Al-Jazeera TV has, since his ouster in July, kept a strong focus on Egypt, with a tone that has been strongly slanted against the interim authorities.
Now, the channel has reduced its attention on Egypt, at a time when Qatar has reportedly put out feelers with a view to moving relations with Egypt back to normal.
While Al-Jazeera Mubashir Misr (Live Egypt), which is dedicated to Egypt, appears not to have changed the way it covers the country, Al-Jazeera’s main Arabic-language news channel has started to give Egypt less airtime and lower billing on its news running orders.
Until recently, the airtime devoted by the channel to developments in Egypt has outstripped even that given over to the conflict in Syria.
On 18 November there were hardly any mentions of Egypt on the main Al-Jazeera TV channel, even though the following day was set to be dominated by mass protests commemorating the anniversary of the 19 November 2011 protests in Cairo against the then military ruling council.
In its coverage of the latest protests, Al-Jazeera also appeared to slightly modify the language it uses in relation to Egyptian affairs.
Unusually for the station, a presenter used the relatively neutral-sounding word “transitional authorities” for Egypt’s current government, although the word “coup” - the Muslim Brotherhood’s (MB) favoured term for the army-led toppling of President Morsi - was still used in a video report.
The station also conducted a studio interview with Egyptian journalist Sulayman Judah, who was strongly critical of the MB. Back in 2011, he pointed out, the group had called the anti-military protesters “saboteurs” and more eager to make “deals” with the army council than to support the demonstrations against it.
In a further sign of Al-Jazeera’s diminishing interest in the country, the channel now also broadcasts its Egypt-focused news at 01:00 a.m. Mecca time (22:00 gmt).
The slight change of focus in Al-Jazeera’s coverage has not gone unnoticed by some Egyptian pundits.
Interviewed recently on privately-owned Al-Yawm TV’s “Cairo Today” programme, journalist and commentator Abd-al-Halim Qandil said he had started to notice a difference in the station’s coverage of Egypt developments.
The same view was expressed in another episode by Dia Rashwan, the head of Egypt’s Syndicate of Journalists and a co-host of the same programme.
The shift in the Qatari-funded station’s approach coincides with reported attempts to iron out differences between Cairo and Doha following the toppling of President Muhammad Morsi.
Quoting Egyptian government sources, the Al-Yawm al-Sabi newspaper on 6 November reported that Qatari intelligence service head Ghanim Khalifah Ghamin al-Qubaysi had launched an initiative to ease tensions.
According to the daily’s sources, Al-Qubaysi directly telephoned a senior Egyptian official to broach the subject of possible rapprochement.
The official reportedly accepted the proposal on two conditions - that Qatar stop its financial support for the Muslim Brotherhood, and that Al-Jazeera TV adopt a neutral tone in its coverage of events in Egypt.
Reports of the mediation efforts appeared to be confirmed by Egyptian presidential media adviser Ahmad Al-Musliman, who told “Cairo Today” on 16 November that “some Arab countries were trying to mediate between Egypt and Qatar to clear the air and restore normal relations”.
If true, the reports suggest that Al-Jazeera may have been told to anticipate a possible thaw in Qatar-Egyptian relations and to start a gradual shift in editorial approach, presumably in order to avoid a more abrupt change later.
However, it is too early to tell yet whether the channel’s slight change in tone is a lasting one.
Source: BBC Monitoring research 20 Nov 13