Monday, January 31, 2005

Al-Jazeera for Sale

Aspiring media moguls might want to consider purchasing al-Jazeera, which the Qatari government is reportedly planning to sell. The New York Times attributes this to Qatar's desire to avoid diplomatic pressure from countries which the station criticizes - the article mentioned the United States, but that would also include regional powers such as Saudi Arabia. As Abu Aardvark regulars know, Arab satellite stations have done a great deal to advance civil society in the region. The decision to sell stems also from economics:

"Mr. Sheikh said that Al Jazeera's budget last year was $120 million, including a subsidy of $40 million or $50 million from Qatar. Mr. Ballout said one reason for the shortfall was that businesses were afraid to advertise because of criticism they might get from Arab governments and the United States.

"'We feel aggrieved that Al Jazeera's popularity has not been rewarded with the advertising it deserves,' said Mr. Ballout. 'The merchant families in control in the Persian Gulf feel they cannot sustain their position if they are not part of the status quo.'"

I have to give props to the Qatari government on this, who are choosing to sell the station rather than exercise greater censorship over it as the Bush administration and others would prefer. Of course, if it became just another government mouthpiece, its market share would drop and probably not improve the economic situation despite the enhanced advertising revenue.


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