Al-Jazeera Staffers Quit Over Alleged Bias In Egypt Coverage

This week has seen recriminations against Al-Jazeera on the part of military leaders and other journalists in Egypt. The network's coverage has been seen as biased toward the Muslim Brotherhood. Now some Al-Jazeera staffers are resigning in protest against their company's coverage. Robert Siegel talks with Arab media expert Courtney Radsch.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

This week, as many as 22 staffers at an Al-Jazeera network in Egypt quit in protest of the network's coverage of events there. Al-Jazeera is a Qatari-owned company. It's based in Doha, Qatar. The journalists claim that the network's management made them take a pro-Muslim Brotherhood stance on air during the military coup last week in Cairo.

Courtney Radsch, formerly of Freedom House, studies and analyzes Arab media, and she joins us now to talk about these resignations. Welcome to the program.

COURTNEY RADSCH: Thank you.

SIEGEL: And first of all, what do we know about the resignations - how many, and what were they protesting?

RADSCH: So there are a variety of reports of between seven to 22 people who resigned. Most of the resignations appear to have occurred in Egypt at the Al-Jazeera Mubasher Channel, which is the Al-Jazeera live channel. But there are also reports of up to four people residing in the main office in Doha. Right now, things are still unfolding. But they appear to have the resigned over protests related to biased coverage of the events in Egypt, and being told to be more pro-Morsi.

There were also concerns that they were giving overdue attention to Morsi supporters, and that that was being perceived as against what many others saw as the popular uprising happening in the streets.

SIEGEL: This is what the people who quit were complaining about. From what you've seen, heard and read, do they have anything - was there anything to their complaints?

RADSCH: It's hard to say whether they were being told to cover something in a certain way or not. But we know that Al-Jazeera was covering Morsi's speech during the time that the military coup was taking place, or that Gen. al-Sisi was giving his remarks. And immediately after that, the authorities went and arrested several journalists from the station and took it off air, along with other Islamist stations who were also broadcasting Morsi's message.

So I guess, you know, it depends on your perspective whether you support what many saw as a popular uprising, or if you are upset by what many others saw as the overthrow of a democratically elected president. And I think the problem is that there is such division in Egypt right now that it's unclear.

SIEGEL: Take us back to the Arab Spring and the protests in Tahrir Square that led to President Mubarak's ouster; the role of Al-Jazeera in those days, and how it was viewed by Egyptians. What would you say?

RADSCH: Al-Jazeera played a very important role during the uprisings in January and February 2011. Al-Jazeera Mubasher was providing around-the-clock coverage. And in the hole left by state media that initially refused to cover the uprisings, Al-Jazeera was an important source of information for Egyptians in Egypt, particularly after the government cut off Internet and mobile access. So then they had no media besides the satellite media to depend on. And so many people in Egypt on others taking to the streets on Al-Jazeera, and you actually saw signs of gratitude being held up to l-Jazeera for, you know, helping the revolution.

And I think that there has been a dramatic change now, in terms of seeing Al-Jazeera on the side of former President Morsi. I don't know that it's necessarily on his side. I think a lot of it depends on what side of the equation you fall on, as an Egyptian.

SIEGEL: Critics of Al-Jazeera, and of its Qatari ownership, would say they don't cover the uprising in Bahrain. They don't cover a conflict that's very close to home. Is Al-Jazeera, at some level, an instrument of Qatari foreign policy?

RADSCH: I think it's fair to say that Al-Jazeera is an instrument of Qatari foreign policy, just as Al Arabiya is an instrument of Saudi Arabian foreign policy. There's been such a difference in coverage between Bahrain and Syria that I think it really illustrates that, indeed, the channel does reflect the broader political priorities of the foreign policy establishment in Qatar.

SIEGEL: Well, Courtney Radsch, thank you very much for talking with us today.

RADSCH: Thank you.

SIEGEL: Courtney Radsch, who used to be with Freedom House and was a reporter for the Al Arabiya news channel, now analyzes Arab media. She spoke to us from Paris.

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