DOHA (Reuters) - Qatar’s Al Jazeera will maintain its editorial independence despite a regional diplomatic crisis that has isolated the small Gulf Arab state, the Doha-based broadcasting network’s acting director-general said on Thursday.
Mostefa Souag dismissed accusations by some Arab powers that Al Jazeera is interfering in their affairs through its reports and defended the network’s professionalism.
“All this talk about Jazeera interfering in other countries’ affairs is nonsense. We don’t interfere in anybody’s business, we just report,” he told Reuters in his office at the network’s headquarters in Qatar’s capital.
“If we bring (in) guests who are opposing certain governments, does that mean we are interfering in the countries’ business? No. Al Jazeera’s editorial policy is going to continue the same regardless of what happens with this event.”
The state-funded network is at the centre of the dispute in which Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain cut diplomatic ties and transport links on Monday with Qatar, which supplies natural gas to world markets.
Yemen, Libya’s eastern-based government and the Maldives also cut ties with Qatar later. Qatar says the moves to isolate it over alleged ties to terrorism, which it denies, are endangering stability in the Gulf region.
Al Jazeera, founded in 1996 as part of Qatar’s efforts to turn its economic power into political influence, won millions of viewers across the Arab world by offering uncensored debate rarely seen on other local broadcasters in the region.
Its talk shows hosted guests who challenged the wisdom of Arab rulers and adopted the role of supporter of the dispossessed. Reporters broke with a widespread taboo of the Arab news media by interviewing Israeli officials.
But the network has caused suspicion among many governments over the air time it gave to Islamist groups in Syria, Libya and elsewhere. Arab rulers also accuse Qatar of using it as a mouthpiece to attack them.
“This is a question that comes again and again, the government and how much they interfere,” said Souag. “We have never had any communication with them. Literally we don’t have any communication with them.”
Souag regretted that Saudi Arabia had closed Al Jazeera’s office in Riyadh, a move that international media watchdog Reporters Without Frontiers called “a political decision that amounts to censoring this TV broadcaster.”
Jordan has also closed down Al Jazeera’s office in Amman and local media in the countries that cut ties with Qatar have suggested the pan-Arab network could be shut down in an effort by Qatar to appease its neighbours.
“We are very sorry that some countries decided to stop Jazeera from working,” Souag said. “Jazeera is going to continue covering all these countries as much as we can. We hope these decisions will be revoked.”
He added: “If they have a political problem with Qatar, they (should) discuss it with the government - not with Al Jazeera.”
Writing by Stephen Kalin, Editing by Timothy Heritage