The three-year-old Al Jazeera English is lauded by The Gays for regularly covering, with responsible reportage, gay rights issues and stories, unlike, say, CNN. Which is why the Canadians Gs are so thrilled the network is finally arriving there. But it isn’t sparing criticism of the parent network, based in Qatar, which still treats homos as worthy of a stoning.
While English-speaking viewers get one version of the news —
Al Jazeera English regularly reports on gay issues. In recent months, its coverage included segments about the gruesome murders of close to 100 gay men by al Mahdi Shi’ite militias in Iraq in 2009, the killing of gay youths in a Tel Aviv club last summer, and India’s court decision to decriminalize gay sex.
— Arabic audiences receive an entirely different point of view.
But Al Jazeera’s Arabic network “is not interested in covering gay rights issues the way Al Jazeera English does,” says [Hossein Alizadeh, Middle East and North Africa program coordinator at the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC)]. Comparing Al Jazeera Arabic with Al Jazeera English “is like comparing apples and oranges.” Al Jazeera Arabic is geared towards a Middle Eastern audience and does not challenge cultural values or orthodox religion, he says.
Extremist religious viewpoints are expressed on Al Jazeera Arabic’s religious talk show Shariah and Life. A number of participants who regularly contribute to Al Jazeera Arabic make negative comments about homosexuality but appear on the channel again and again, he says. This includes Yousef al-Qaradawi, a prominent scholar who is on every other week. While Alizadeh says the cleric has offered some progressive views such as “discouraging government monitoring of citizen behaviour, the right of people to commit sin and the right to privacy,” he also promotes anti-gay views — in line with orthodox Islam.
Critics of Al Jazeera’s policy forget one obvious business mantra: Know your customer.