The Threat to Al Jazeera From Arab Dictators Is an Intolerable Assault upon the Free Press

In the Arab world, where freedom of expression and opposing voices have traditionally been silenced either through censorship, threat, imprisonment, or death, Al Jazeera has been an ongoing revolutionary act for nearly two decades.

As George Orwell famously put it, “In a time of deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act."  

In many ways, our mission at Al Jazeera mirrors Orwell’s quote, giving voice to the dreams, frustrations, dissent, opinions, and aspirations of the millions of voiceless and faceless people from some of the most repressive places on earth.  

When Al Jazeera first came on the scene over two decades ago, media in the Arab region was completely dominated by Arab dictators. The sycophantic propaganda and the stranglehold on free expression exercised by these regimes promoted a one-sided view aimed at protecting their own power status. No room was left for the voices of opposition and dissent.

GettyImages-462747438 Al-Jazeera journalist Peter Greste punches the air upon his arrival at Brisbane's international airport in the early hours of February 5, 2015. Greste arrived back in Australia following his release from an Egyptian jail where he was held for more than 400 days. PATRICK HAMILTON/AFP/Getty

Our uncompromising pursuit of the truth and raw reality on the ground has made Al Jazeera loved by its audiences, but hated by governments.

Governments have said we’re pro-rebel and rebels say that we’re pro-government. We’ve been accused by the West of being pro-Islamist and by Islamists of being pro-West. Arabs have criticized Al Jazeera of being pro-Israeli and Israelis have criticized us for being pro-Arab.

In fact, all we’ve done is follow what true journalism teaches – to bring all points of view to a story and let our audiences decide for themselves.

Recently, the existence of our network is being threatened by our neighbors in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain. They have demanded that we be silenced or that we be shut down. Al Jazeera finds itself as the target of an audacious and unprecedented campaign by these regimes aimed at crippling journalism.

Shutting down independent free media because it does not tow the government line is uncivilized, backwards, and oppressive. At a time when more dialogue is so desperately needed across the world, to be voiceless is to be powerless.

This is precisely what UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain are demanding of millions of people across the Arab world. To suppress their viewpoints, their dissent, and their opinions. Silence.

It was Thomas Jefferson who said that “the only security of all is in a free press.”  And while free media and journalism seem to be under siege everywhere, from Mexico to Myanmar, it is nowhere more so than in the Arab world.

Here, citizens and media continue to be threatened with official crimes against the state, punishable by fines and prison. Many news media outlets have been shut down by governments seeking to curtail any remnant of people’s right to be heard and right to know, seeking a return to the pre-Al Jazeera period.

Al Jazeera is in the crosshairs of many of these attacks leveled against free and independent media. Since our inception, our journalists have been threatened, imprisoned, tortured, and killed, our offices have been bombed, our signals have been blocked from transmitting in certain countries, our websites hacked, and our social media accounts taken down.

We’ve been banned in almost every Arab country at one time or another.

The reason? Because it has always been unfavorable for governments in this region to allow for opposing views to be expressed openly in public. Speaking truth to power has come with a price, but it’s a price that we and courageous journalists have been willing to pay, and have paid.

An attack on free media is an attack on us all. A world without Al Jazeera would leave a vacuum and a void for all the people that have come to rely on us to give them a voice, to show what’s happening on the ground.

We are inspired by the international community who have continued to stand with us in defense of the media freedom that has allowed us to continue to be a messenger for the voiceless across the world.

And in the spirit that we started with, we will endeavor, whatever the circumstances may be, to abide by our mission to bring clarity to the issues that affect the lives of all people, especially those ravaged by war, oppression, poverty, and conflict. And we will not be deterred.

Abdulla Al Najjar is the Executive Director of Global Brand and Communications at Al Jazeera Media Network.

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