We will continue: Al Jazeera official to Anadolu Agency

Giles Trendle, acting managing director of Doha-based Al Jazeera’s English-language news channel, spoke to Anadolu Agency about mounting pressure on Qatar — which remains embroiled in a weeks-long political dispute with several fellow Arab states — to close the prominent news network.

The following is the text of the interview:

Anadolu Agency: Where does Al Jazeera stand in this crisis pitting Qatar against a handful of fellow Arab states?

Giles Trendle: We understand from the list that has been reported that the closure of Al Jazeera is one of the demands. But as Al Jazeera, we are committed to continuing our bold and compelling journalism.

We are committed to reporting frankly and fairly around the world; we are committed to our editorial mission.

AA: Since 2011, Al Jazeera has been subjected to all sorts of campaigns: your journalists have been imprisoned, your offices shut, your websites blocked. At the same time, other media organizations — such as Al-Arabiya and Sky news Arabiya — have continued their work unmolested. Why is there all this pressure on Al-Jazeera specifically?

GT: Al Jazeera has had tough experiences even before 2011. We have had our offices closed and journalists imprisoned and killed even before that.

Since 2011, Al Jazeera has reported on the so-called Arab Spring and the hopes and dreams of a new generation. It has become a platform for the voices of the man and woman on the street.

I think there are some regimes and governments in the region who feel threatened by this change and the hopes and idealism — and the optimism — of this new generation.

I think that’s one of the reasons why Al Jazeera is in the spotlight and its closure on the list of demands.

AA: There have been accusations that Al Jazeera incited people to rebel against their rulers and take to the streets in 2011. What’s your response to such accusations?

GT: Al Jazeera reported what was happening; it didn’t incite what was happening — that’s a very critical difference. The events, or revolutions, or uprising were spontaneous. We followed and covered these protests. We didn’t lead them or incite them.

AA: There are also accusations that Al Jazeera supports Daesh and Al-Qaeda. How would you refute such allegations?

GT: Firstly, our policy is to report accurately, comprehensively and fairly — this is our editorial policy.

We have had many accusations of being pro-Daesh, pro-Al-Qaeda, pro-Hezbollah, pro-Hamas, pro-Muslim Brotherhood, pro-Israel, pro-America. I would have to be a magician if I was pro all these things at the same time.

All I will say is that all our content is online and anyone can go to our website — or watch our television — and judge for themselves. I challenge anyone to find any report or program that is “pro” anyone.

These accusations are a red herring; they are not the real issue.

AA: In most of the countries now arrayed against Qatar, Al Jazeera’s offices have either been closed or its reporters and staff asked to leave. Is this simply a reaction to Qatar’s regional policies, or an attempt to silence Al Jazeera?

GT: There have been times in the past where we have had offices closed in other countries in the Arab Arab world; we have had such experience before. But we are in a new situation now.

We had an office closed in Saudi Arabia and an office closed in Jordan; we have had our [broadcasting] signal and websites blocked…

This is draconian; a very tough measure, as George Orwell said. They are tough and autocratic.

AA: The demand for Al Jazeera’s closure is seen by some observers as an attempt to prevent the masses from accessing information. How do you ensure that peoples’ right to information is respected?

GT: We see calls to close Al Jazeera as an attempt to muzzle the media and freedom of expression. We condemn measures like closing offices, blocking websites and jamming TVs. We think they are unjustified.

We call on all governments to respect the role of the journalist and allow them to do their jobs without intimidation. We are committed to continuing our editorial mission at Al Jazeera.

AA: Three weeks into this crisis, you as a journalist, and as director of such an important media organization, how do you see this all ending?

GT: I will leave the crisis for the politicians… As for Al Jazeera, we will continue; we are committed to continuing.

We don’t believe anyone has the right to prevent freedom of expression and freedom of speech. We don’t recognize that any country has the right to tell another country to stop [broadcasting]. For example, it is a bit like Germany telling Britain to stop the BBC.

We don’t recognize this right as we can’t imagine the European Union telling Turkey to close Anadolu Agency.

AA: Through all this, Turkey has largely stood by Qatar by sending needed commodities and in other ways. How do you, as a journalist, assess Turkey’s role in the crisis?

GT: I am enjoying Turkish milk and Turkish products… I think the Turkish foreign minister has visited the countries [involved in the crisis] and has adopted a very understanding and balanced position…

Turkey’s position is balanced if you compare it to some other countries. For example, in America, there is confusion, when Mr. [U.S. President Donald] Trump says something and Mr. [U.S. Secretary of State Rex] Tillerson says another thing.

It is a very sensitive region; a very sensitive situation. It needs understanding and calm and I think Turkey has been showing that.

AA: There have been demands for the closure of other media outlets along with Al Jazeera. What is the common denominator between them?

GT: It was not just Al Jazeera. There were other websites — like Arabi al-Jadeed and Arabi 21, Rassd, the Middle East Eye — but Al Jazeera topped the list of demands.

Any attempt to shut down media without a good justification threatens freedom of expression. Open media is a pillar of pluralistic, democratic society; it is a pillar of a healthy society.

AA: Will Al Jazeera dilute its position or editorial line as a result of this crisis? Is it prepared to make any concessions?

GT: We will continue to perform our role as journalists, which is to report truthfully and fairly and to put tough questions to the centers of power.

We cannot dilute this role just because certain governments want us to do so.


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