By Dr. Moazzam Naseer and Muhammad Rashid, Riphah University International Islamabad .
Conflict in human history is older than diplomacy. In the 21st century, the nature of conflicts has changed into non-conventional warfare. The conflict between Saudi Arabia and Qatar started on June 5th, 2017 when Saudi Arabia and four other Arab states cut their diplomatic relations with Qatar. They accused Qatar as a supporter of terrorism among the region and Qatar totally denied the allegations against it. But diplomatic conflict begging between Saudi Arabia and Qatar and they both are using their media for trying to win this war. Electronic Media in the Middle East was founded in 1975's but it has been under the control of state authorities. Al Jazeera was launched on first of November in 1996 following the closing of BBC Arabic language channel in the region. The reason behind its shutting down was an intrusion of Saudi Arabia. After this happening Amir of Qatar at that time provided a loan of 500 million Qatari Riyal for the sustaining Al Jazeera. Al Jazeera flourished throughout its history and also remains under criticism. On another hand, Saudi Arabia is backing Dubai based channel Al Arabia, some Saudi investors and government of the Saudi regime have launched this channel for tackling the Qatari narratives through Al Jazeera. It is considered as a competitor and rival of Al Jazeera because of Saudi Royal family has some reservations about the channel and its ownership Qatari administration. Previous studies indicate that due to their rivalry and some other diplomatic issues, both channels are framing the issues related to both countries. The purpose of this research is to find out how both channels are framing the news and issues for fulfilling the state's interest. Critical discourse analysis of media reports is the most suitable method for finding the proper shreds of evidence regarding the purpose of this research. Saudi Arabia is supposed to a regional hegemon of the Middle East and the hegemonic stability theory can provide clear glasses to understand the whole issue. The results of previous researches point out that both channels are state-sponsored and working for strengthens the respective state’s point of view in diplomatic conflict.
Keywords: diplomatic conflict, media framing, Al Jazeera, Al Arabia, Saudi Arabia, Qatar
Diplomacy has a long history and it has been playing a vital role in the bilateral relations among the states (Grossman, Diplomacy Before and after Conflict, 2010). By the advancement of new means of communications media is considered as a major tool to convey and portray the issues towards the audiences. Diplomats are the main characters who represent their respective states during the diplomacy and try to convince others for fulfilling their state’s interests. But now in this digital age, states are using media for diplomacy. Media framing is a concept is referred to agenda setting but it expands into that focus of media on the specific issues or events and then framing them into the meanings. The main essence of framing is that how media interprets the news or events to the audience in such ways that influence the thoughts of people how to take this information. In short, framing is that media is not telling people, what to think it has played a role that how to think about any issue (JAMESON, 1976).
The diplomatic history between Saudi Arabia and Qatar has been not the same, it has many ups and downs. Qatar had good relations with Saudi Arabia since the border demarcation between the two countries in 1965. In the cold war era, Qatar followed Saudi policies and also become the part of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Saudi Arabia also played a mediator role in the Qatar- Bahrain border conflict. In 1992 a fire exchange occurred between the Saudi and Qatari troops and the Saudi army reportedly killed several Qatari military personals. (SamuelAzran, 2013)
A hostile situation started between the two countries. This situation becomes more severe when the USA relocated their arm forces from Saudi Arabia to Al Ubaid air base in Qatar during the Iraq war. In June 2002 Al Jazeera criticized Saudi government policies infamous talk show. After that Saudi regime took harsh action against Al Jazeera and banned the coverage of pilgrimage in Mecca for correspondence of this channel. In 2007 relations between both countries become dramatically normal and economically strengthen. During the coverage of Arab spring Al Jazeera again become suspicious for Saudi Arabia and now Saudi Arabia made some serious allegations against Qatar (Samuel-Azran, 2013). And in 2017 again both countries indulged into a very severe diplomatic conflict.
In late 1996 Al Jazeera started its broadcasting with the help of Amir of Qatar. BBC Saudi based channel had to stop its broadcasting in the region because the Saudi government tried to impose censorship on this channel. Many former staff members of this channel joined Al Jazeera newly established TV channel. Qatar was always under the influence of Saudi Arabia since it was founded. The foreign policy of Qatar was usually decided by the Saudi government. Al Jazeera showed some controversial news about the Royal family of Saudi Arabia. In result, this channel is banned within Saudi Arabia. Qatar wanted its own foreign policy without any influenced by Saudi Arabia. In responding to Al Jazeera Saudi government created Al Arabia channel based in Dubai. A rivalry started between Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia and few other Gulf countries cut their diplomatic ties with Qatar. Their stance was that Qatar is supporting terrorist’s organizations. Qatar is supporting the Muslim Brotherhood ideology and also in favor of Iran in the Middle East region. The clash between Saudi Arabia and Qatar can be seen on their media channels. And how their channels framing the issues as the concerned states desired to win this diplomatic conflict.
The government of Saudi Arabia is totalitarian in nature; they have to protect their regime from the democratic and liberals point of views. Saudi Arabia can protect its authoritarian system within the state through the censorship or state control of the media industry (Boyd, 2009). But the Saudi government has to maintain its hegemony in the Middle East region. In the contemporary world, traditional war is not an easy tool to threat or overcome to the enemy state. Media is the best tool for spreading specific point of views and threat to the rival’s groups.
Qatar is one of the major founders of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). And also is the third country among the GCC group has been signed and ratified both treaties Under the UN. One of them was about the political, social and cultural rights of the humans (ICESC) and second was the political and civil human rights (ICCPR). (Qatar Joins Core Human Rights Treaties, 2018) Qatar has ratified the emphasized version of human rights together with media freedom but its domestic law is telling another story. But according to its domestic laws about media and publications, media freedom is restricted as government officials desired. Media industry and media professionals in Qatar are the subjects to major limitations from the government. And Al Jazeera with the sponsorship of Qatar is allowed to broadcast any controversial materials about the states and its leaders.
Since the WW1 media had been used for propaganda and changing public opinion. But with the emergence of satellite global news channels, government-sponsored channels played a vital role in public diplomacy across the states also. Al Jazeera has been playing a key role in the diplomatic war with Saudi Arabia. Since the beginning of Al Jazeera, it has coverage Saudi affairs in a very critical way which has been not accepted by the Saudi government. (SamuelAzran, 2013)
Both countries have no free media within their states. Their laws are not in favor of media freedom. Its mean that state can manipulate its media and use it against the other state especially in the same region. The hostile situation between the two countries is not a new thing, but with the passage of time, it turns into a media war. Al Jazeera English is totally free to discuss any global issue including criticism on Saudi Arabia. Al Jazeera reporting is Saudi focused and its related to the diplomatic conflict. Both media channels are framing specific issues and trying to portray the negative image of each other's sponsored states. On the other hand, Al Arabia English is continually discussing such activities of Qatar and framing into such way that these activities are against peace in the Middle East, and Qatar is really supporting terrorism among the region. Most of English the stories in Al Arabia English are taken from US media, like from the New York Post and Huffington Post. Its mean this channel is serving the US and Saudi interests in the region.
The conflict between two countries of Middle East Saudi Arabia and Qatar is the reason behind the strategically use of media freedom for their own interests. The aim of this paper to identify how Al Jazeera English and Al Arabia framing the news about the conflict between the two states. For the identification of state-sponsored media diplomacy and media framing, content analysis is an appropriate method to explain this query. The content of both media channels regarding the conflict between two states indicates that how they are using media framing for strengthening their point of views. Both states are trying to undermine each other through media channels.
Saudi Arabia and Qatar are using media power in their diplomatic conflict. Both channels have access to regional and global audiences. They are taking advantage of modern diplomacy and taking advantage of it. Al Jazeera has made Qatar as a key regional player and world is considering it as an economically rich state. This channel has a massive audience within the region and also on a global level. Any critical reports about Saudi policies shown by Al Jazeera definitely have some effects on the people. Both countries are not democratic in nature but Saudi Arabia has imposed some harsh restriction on domestic media and public can't discuss openly the government policies. This is a plus point for Qatar because it has modern environment than Saudi Arabia. Al Jazeera used to criticize Saudi policies towards its people and audience is much aware that people in Saudi Arabia living in a conservative environment. This is a direct threat to the Saudi regime because in the Arab Spring Al Jazeera already played an important role and Saudi Arabia can’t afford any uprising movements within the country (Amini, 2016). On the other hand, Saudi Arabian sponsored channel Al Arabia is continually trying to prove that Qatar is a power hunger country and supporting some terrorist organizations for disturbing the peace of the region.
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Rashid, Muhammad and Naseer, Moazzam, Diplomatic Conflict and Media Framing: Reporting of Al Jazeera and Al Arabia Channels Related to Saudi-Qatar Conflict (August 5, 2019). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3432617 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3432617