Dave Marash, al-Jazeera English's Washington anchor until last week, gives an interesting interview to the Columbia Journalism Review about the reasons behind his departure. Chiefly it seems that he was unhappy with the US coverage of the station and his dwindling influence, but he also gives an intriguing explanation of recent editorial changes at both AJE and the mother station:
I'm not sure what he's talking about when he mentions "following the American political leadership and the American political ideal of global, universalist values carried out in an absolutely pure, multipolar, First Amendment global conversation" -- after all American news media, or indeed policies, hardly follow "universalist values" or "multipolar conversation" of any kind -- but the Cheney bit is interesting.
BC: What changed?
DM: I think that the world changed about nine, ten months ago. And I think the single event in that change was the visit to the gulf by Vice President Cheney, where he went to line up the allied ducks in a row behind the possibility of action against Iran. And instead of getting acquiescence, the United States got defiance, and instead ducks in a row the ducks basically went off on their own and the first sort of major breakthrough on that was the Mecca agreement, which defied the American foreign policy by letting Hamas into the tent of the governance of the Palestinian territories. This enraged the State Department and was one crystal clear sign that the Mideast region was now off campus, was off on its own. And it is around this time, and I think not coincidentally, that you see the state of Qatar and the royal family of Qatar starting to make up their feud with the Saudis, and you start to see on both Al Jazeera Arabic and English a very sort of first-personish, â€œmy Hajâ€� stories that were boosterish of the Haj and of Saudi Arabia. And you start to see stories of analysis in The New York Times where regional people are noting that Al Jazeera seems to be changing its editorial stance toward Saudi Arabia. Iâ€™m suggesting that around that time, a decision was made at the highest levels of [Al Jazeera] that simply following the American political leadership and the American political ideal of global, universalist values carried out in an absolutely pure, multipolar, First Amendment global conversation, was no longer the safest or smartest course, and that it was time, in fact, to get right with the region. And I think part of getting right with the region was slightly changing the editorial ambition of Al Jazeera English, and I think it has subsequently become a more narrowly focused, more univocal channel than was originally conceived.