The resignation of Wadah Khanfar and the future of Al Jazeera

Philip Seib writes:

The resignation last week of Wadah Khanfar as managing director of Al Jazeera has provoked speculation that scandal lurks beneath his departure. Many have pointed to a WikiLeaks cable stating that Khanfar had succumbed to pressure from the U.S. in 2005 and played down civilian casualties in some of the network’s coverage of the Iraq War. Others have argued that larger political matters related to its coverage of the Arab Spring — especially its unrestrained, albeit selective, endorsement of democratic reforms — forced Khanfar’s ouster.

Both suggestions contain more fancy than substance: it is hard to believe that Doha did not already know about Khanfar’s talking to the U.S. ambassador or that pro-democracy strands in Al Jazeera’s programming would end his career. (Khanfar regularly ruffled feathers during his tenure.) A far likelier explanation is that, after eight stressful years, Khanfar simply decided that he had contributed all he could to the network. Indeed, his contributions have been transformative.

The more intriguing question is what comes next for Al Jazeera. On one level, the network is doing well. It has grown by leaps and bounds since its founding in 1996. Al Jazeera English’s reputation for solid journalism continues to improve, as evidenced by its surge in popularity in the United States during this year’s Arab uprisings. The network is developing franchises in sub-Saharan Africa, Turkey, and the Balkans. There is even talk of Al Jazeera Urdu. But despite its expanding global reach, the Arab world’s flagship 24-hour satellite news channel must now face the fact that Arabs’ dependence on it is decreasing. As more and more of the region gains access to the Internet, a proliferation of information providers is eroding Al Jazeera’s dominance. Meanwhile, the revolutions that the network helped drive have unleashed a cascade of largely local news outlets, which provide more direct competition. There is no doubt that Al Jazeera will remain a major force in the region for years to come, but its singular role as a unique provider of open, honest content may already be a thing of the past.

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One thought on “The resignation of Wadah Khanfar and the future of Al Jazeera

  1. Joseph Partida

    Al jazeera was (and maybe still is) “prohibited” in the US, with the exception of just a couple of places, including D.C., ironicaly enough. Al jazeera brought the uprising in Egypt into american homes, much to the disappointment of Washington and Israel. Remember Mobarak was “a friend of the US” as well as recipiant of military aid 2nd only to Israel,and as Clinton and Biden were at first supporting him to the world started changing their tune when Tunisa and Egypt took direct action and showed what the reality was. The fear with a “royal” autocrat who is not a journalist gaining yet more control of the media is disheartning to say the least. A free press that moniters its leaders is fundamental in a real democracy. Lets hope that Al jazeera will not join forces with Fox news.

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