Qatar is reported to be launching a new television station as a political counterweight to Al Jazeera amid concern the network has become too supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood.
According to the UAE’s The National newspaper, the new station is to be an Arabic-language news channel based in London and broadcasting across the Arab world. It is one of several new media ventures launched under the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, who succeeded his father in June and is seeking to put his own stamp on the country’s vast soft power machine.
The driving force behind the new station is Azmi Bishara, the Palestinian director of the Doha-based Arab Centre for Research and Policy Studies, and a close confidant of the emir.
Mr Bishara is known to be “fairly anti-Brotherhood” and willing to criticise the group publicly, Michael Stephens, deputy director of the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies Qatar, told The National.
“Bishara recommended that it be started. His own beliefs are that Qatar has been too close to the Ikhwan for too long.”
Mr Stephens said the channel, named AlAraby Television Network, was supposed to launch in January but kept getting pushed back.
It is currently recruiting staff, placing job adverts for a satellite coordinator and a planning producer and headhunting from existing Arabic news stations such as BBC Arabic.
Media outlets serve as Qatar’s main soft power tool on the international stage, especially the Doha-based television network Al Jazeera.
Since its launch in 1996 Al Jazeera has grown exponentially but its criticism of other Arabian Gulf countries and willingness to give voice to members of the Muslim Brotherhood, in line with Doha’s support for Islamists after the Arab Spring uprisings, has angered Qatar’s neighbours.
In one of the worst diplomatic spats in the GCC’s history, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar in March. The protest came after Yusuf Al Qaradawi, a spiritual guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, who has a show on Al Jazeera, continued to criticise other Gulf countries for cracking down on Brotherhood activists..
Saudi Arabia considers the Muslim Brotherhood to be a terrorist organisation, a position backed by the UAE.
The new station will serve as a way for Qatar to not only boost its already sizeable media industry, but also allow Sheikh Tamim to step out of the shadow of his father, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, and rebalance the country’s policies after drawing the ire of its neighbours.
While Qatar would risk losing face and regional influence by censoring Al Jazeera, the establishment of the new outlet appears part of a strategy to gain a new audience. Instead of competing directly with Al Jazeera, the new station would be more likely to compete for viewers with Saudi Arabia’s Al Arabiya television.
Yet with so many Arabic-language news outlets in existence, Qatar’s new ventures are unlikely to offer Sheikh Tamim the same kind of power that Al Jazeera offered his father Sheikh Hamad.