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Al-Jazeera Faces Pressure To Close Amid Qatar's Diplomatic Crisis

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Al-Jazeera Faces Pressure To Close Amid Qatar's Diplomatic Crisis

Middle East

Al-Jazeera Faces Pressure To Close Amid Qatar's Diplomatic Crisis

Al-Jazeera Faces Pressure To Close Amid Qatar's Diplomatic Crisis

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A month ago, several countries cut ties with Qatar, saying it funds terrorist groups and has too close a relationship with Iran. Qatari-funded Al-Jazeera is caught up in the middle of the crisis. Giles Trendle, managing director for Al-Jazeera English, speaks with NPR's Kelly McEvers.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

We're going to talk now about a diplomatic crisis in the Middle East. It started about a month ago, when several countries cut ties with Qatar, saying it funds terrorist groups and has too close a relationship with Iran. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain then released a list of 13 demands they want Qatar to meet by tomorrow. The list includes scaling back relations with Iran, kicking out Turkish troops that are based in Qatar and closing down the Al-Jazeera News Network. The broadcaster has responded to that demand.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: To those who demand that Al-Jazeera be shut down...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: ...And that people's right to the truth be suppressed...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: We too have demands.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: We demand journalists be able to do their jobs...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: ...Free from intimidation and threats.

MCEVERS: Saudi Arabia and its allies say Al-Jazeera broadcasts propaganda. Giles Trendle is the managing director for Al Jazeera English. He's with us now from Doha on Skype. Welcome to the show.

GILES TRENDLE: Thank you very much.

MCEVERS: People who work at Al-Jazeera must be pretty nervous that, you know, the closing of the network is on this list of demands. What are you telling your employees right now?

TRENDLE: Well, we're telling them keep calm and carry on. I know it sounds a bit of a cliche but everybody's at their desks. It's business as normal but it's obviously an unusual situation. And all we can do, as journalists, is continue to do our jobs to the best of our ability. We have a great team of journalists. Our reporting is professional and objective and we will carry on doing that.

MCEVERS: I think it's important to differentiate between Al-Jazeera English and Al-Jazeera Arabic. Al-Jazeera English is seen as objective, but it's, you know, it's not a secret that, especially after the start of the Arab Spring in 2011, Al-Jazeera Arabic was much more likely to take a stand on the air. Yeah?

TRENDLE: Look, the two channels, Al-Jazeera Arabic and Al-Jazeera English, are coming from the same stable. But one thing to understand is that a different language is expressed in different ways. There's a cultural context here. So there have been many accusations against Al-Jazeera Arabic, but it's the same editorial ethos about getting all sides of the story to provide a full perspective.

MCEVERS: Yeah, I mean, but to think about some recent examples, I mean, you've got a prominent anchor on Al-Jazeera Arabic saying an interim president in Egypt was a Jew carrying out an Israeli plot. You've got, you know, an Iraqi affairs editor tweeting approvingly about a massacre where Islamic State militants killed Shiites. I mean, these are people taking a stand in that particular part of the network.

TRENDLE: Well, I'm not aware of those particular examples. But again, all I would say is that the cultural context and the language is such that it's much more expressive and passionate, whereas maybe the English language, we might be more reserved and stiff upper lip. And really, if you want to hear inflammatory television, then just tune into Egyptian TV or TV coming out of other states.

MCEVERS: Do you think Al-Jazeera is going to survive this? I mean, what is your sense? Are there negotiations going on behind the scenes to keep it going?

TRENDLE: Well, that's where the politicians come in, really. I know there's a meeting tomorrow in Cairo with the foreign ministers of Saudi, Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt. I believe that Qatar has responded to the demands. And we're, as much as anyone, waiting to see what comes out of the political discussions.

MCEVERS: Can you imagine a situation where, you know, bosses come to you and say, all right, we can stay open but we've got to not report on these things? What would happen then?

TRENDLE: Well, as I said, we've got a great team of journalists. I can't imagine that all those journalists would want to work somewhere where they felt constrained and restricted in what they could do.

MCEVERS: What about you yourself, would you stay under those conditions?

TRENDLE: Well, I - I'm with Al-Jazeera for 12 years, and I enjoy being here because it's a company that is committed to, you know, reporting the truth and all aspects of the truth, so as long as it does that, I'm happy.

MCEVERS: Giles Trendle, managing director for Al-Jazeera English, talking to us from Doha on Skype. Thank you very much.

TRENDLE: Thank you very much.

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