Kuwait shuts down Al-Jazeera citing bias

MUMBAI: Arabic satellite channel Al-Jazeera may be hoping to take wing into non-Arabic speaking homes but before that it may well need to protect its existing turf. With war clouds looming over the Arabian Peninsula, Kuwait closed down Al-Jazeera's offices on Sunday account of its alleged lack of objectivity in its coverage of the oil-rich sheikhdom.

This of course is nothing new for the TV station based out of tiny Qatar. The station's correspondents have been expelled from several Arab countries for their hard-hitting reporting, a rarity in this region where most media are state-controlled.

The announcement was made by Kuwaiti information minister Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahd al-Sabah who was quoted as telling reporters: "The closure decision was not due to a single news item." Sheikh Ahmad said Al-Jazeera had earlier been given several warnings.

Al-Jazeera is one of the most popular TV channels in the Arab world and shot to prominence during the US-led campaign in Afghanistan by broadcasting videotaped messages from American enemy No. 1 Osama bin Laden and other Al-Qaeda officials, Washington's main suspects in the 11 September 2001 attacks on the United States.

Qatar has had to face the ire of a wide swathe of countries in the Arab world for Al-Jazeera's reporting but has so far refused to curb the channel citing freedom of expression. Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Morocco, Jordan, Bahrain, Iran are just some of the states that have at different times hit out at Al-Jazeera.

Bahrain had said last week that it would not allow Al-Jazeera to operate on its territory and would boycott any local station that deals with Al-Jazeera. In an interview Bahraini information minister Nabil al-Hamar reportedly gave to a Jordanian newspaper, he said that while Bahrain remained committed to introducing freedom of the media, such freedom did not extend to permitting "chaos". 

These "distractions" aside, Al-Jazeera is planning to broadcast in English as part of an ambitious expansion plan. The broadcaster wants to reposition itself as a global news channel to rival CNN and the BBC.

As part of a trial run, early next year the channel will begin dubbing news broadcasts in English and providing a separate soundtrack to the main Arabic broadcast, it has been reported.

And if that proves successful, Al-Jazeera wants to create a full English-language version of the channel. It is also reportedly considering launching separate, specialist channels dedicated to sport and business.

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