Al Jazeera? Among the last in the ratings for Arab Spring countries
Alma Safira 14 May 2013

Although Al Jazeera provided ample coverage of uprisings in Bahrain, uprisings that did not sit well with  Qatar, with a Shiite majority opposing the Sunni sovereigns, only 4% of Bahrainis interviewed by NU-Q said they considered Al Jazeera as a source of news. Some indicated a preference for local media such as Al Watan (10%), foreign networks such as the BBC (8%), while others have abandoned the media in favour of social networks such as Facebook (11%). Al Jazeera came with only 4% of preferences. This was brutal data for a network that was awarded international prizes for its documentary “Bahrain: shouting in the dark” in which violence on the island was reported.

The Amnesty International Media Award and the Robert Kennedy Journalism Award for the best international network were not enough to persuade Bahrainis to watch Al Jazeera.  Many consider Al Jazeera the network owned by the Emir who two years ago sent armed forces and soldiers to the island to quell unrest.

In Tunisia the results were similar with only 9% of the population considering Al Jazeera a news source and placing the network last in the ratings alongside Al Arabiya. The most popular source of all was Facebook with 52% followed by local media. In Tunisia also people were disconcerted by Qatar’s policies. Tunisians recently experienced the most paradoxical scene in their recent history when they celebrated the first anniversary of their country’s liberation from a dictator, with a visit from the Emir of Qatar, a non-democratic sovereign.

Another country studied by the Northwestern University in Qatar, and one that caused a degree of embarrassment to Al Jazeera, was Egypt, where the network appears in the ranking as a news source only after local media such as Al Hayat and foreign media such as CBC.  And yet, in Egypt also Qatar’s policies appear to have been rather invasive. Financing allocated by Qatar to post-Mubarak Egypt have been compared to the Marshall Plan as generosity in times of need, which, according to many will have to be acknowledged with long term gratefulness having serious political repercussions.

Al Jazeera is therefore indignant about this lack of success in an ungrateful region and about the audacity with which a local newspaper published this painful data. Many believe that even Al Jazeera America’s adventure in the United States has more regional objectives and CNN in fact is still the most watched network in the Middle East according to a Synovate EMS survey.

Targeting and weakening CNN in America could result in greater success in the Arab world. Al Jazeera America is expected to start broadcasting in July and one will have to wait and see what happens in order to understand whether this exotically-named network will win its most difficult battle by conquering American viewers.

Translated by Francesca Simmons