Qatar’s Al-Jazeera satellite television is struggling to find fresh financing sources, after the station’s advertising revenues have nearly run dry. The channel has reportedly lost many of its commercial advertisers to pressure exerted by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states, spearheaded by Saudi Arabia.
Both controversial and highly popular, the Arabic Al-Jazeera news channel has been incurring losses of $30 million annually. While the channel’s executives make every effort to downplay the impact of the commercial boycott, observers forecast a dim future for the channel, often branded the Arab CNN.
A meeting of the GCC’s ministers of information, held last month in the Omani capital of Muscat, issued a call for a boycott of the Doha-based TV channel. Saudi Arabia, the largest and strongest of the Gulf states, has been leading the channel’s boycott campaign. With over 35 million viewers throughout the world, Al-Jazeera is also the most popular satellite TV channel in Saudi Arabia. Although privately held, the station in not fully independent from the Qatari government.
Saudi officials have often voiced their discontent over what they describe as Al-Jazeera’s “deliberate and programmed assaults against the Kingdom and its leaders.” Riyadh went farther last month by recalling its ambassador to Qatar, in protest over Al-Jazeera broadcasts perceived by Riyadh as critical of the Saudi royal family.
Al-Jazeera News Editor-In-Chief Ibrahim Hilal asserts, however, that the GCC ministers’ call has not added much to the boycott, which has been surrounding the channel since some time. “As far as I know, nothing is new regarding the boycott, which has been there since a long time and has not come just as a result of the latest meeting of the ministers of information,” Hilal told Albawaba.com.
Hilal added that Saudi firms, which constitute a key revenue source for Al-Jazeera, responded to the pressure of their government and halted their advertising campaigns on the Qatari channel. He stressed that Al-Jazeera “continued operation despite the boycott,” implying that his channel persists in its coverage policy towards Saudi Arabia and other states.
Acrimony between Qatar and Saudi Arabia has now spilled over to affect Qatar’s relations with Bahrain, Jordan and Egypt. In late August, the Jordanian government closed Al-Jazeera's office in Amman and recalled its ambassador for consultation, saying Jazeera had portrayed the kingdom's rulers as "puppets of the United States and Israel," reported IPS (International Press Service).
According to Hilal, the boycott was not limited to firms based in the Middle East region, but has also spread to US-based firms. “This boycott will not affect Al-Jazeera because revenues generated from commercials are extremely limited. We will continue our parade even if all advertisements are stopped,” continued Hilal.
He reiterated that Al-Jazeera would overcome this crisis, which “has not stemmed from decline in commercial advertisement.” He said Al-Jazeera’s main income is derived from leasing cameras and overseas offices, photo sales and international subscriptions to the channel. Significant revenues are also derived from the sale of exclusive footage, particularly Bin Laden tapes.
He alluded to huge sums which the Japanese TV network (NHK) is expected to pay Al-Jazeera under a recently signed contract. The channel also finalized broadcastign deals with the Atlanta-based CNN and Germany's ZDF. Seeking alternative sources of income, the channel plans to launch a new English dubbing service.
Al-Jazeera was established in 1996 with a capital of $150 million, funded by the Emir of Qatar Sheik Hamad Bin. It was hoped that the news channel would become financially viable by the year 2001, through advertising revenues. With this objective unattained, Qatar’s ruler has decided to inject another $30 million of his own money to keep the channel going, on a year-by-year basis.
It seems that it is this source of funding that has enabled Al-Jazeera executives to uphold their controversial broadcasting policy, regardless of criticism and political pressures. The channel now employs a staff of 600 journalists, stationed in most Arab capitals, as well as Europe and the US.
Hilal concluded by stressing Al-Jazeera’s keenness on being neutral. “We always review our work whether we receive accusations and criticisms or not. We will correct our mistakes if any,” he said.
The Gulf emirate of Qatar occupies a tiny peninsula attached to the powerful kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The two GCC member states have only recently concluded an agreement, which put an end to a decades’ old border dispute. While Qatar sits atop the world’s third largest gas reserves, its southern neighbor Saudi Arabia is home to a quarter of the world's oil reserves and is the world’s largest producer of oil. — (menareport.com)
© 2002 Mena Report (www.menareport.com )