The Means And Meaning Of Al Jazeera, As Top Arab Broadcaster Turns 15

Marking its 15th anniversary, Al Jazeera is basking in recent praise for its pivotal coverage of the Arab Spring protests. But the still relatively young history of the Qatar-based satellite network is filled with contradiction, as well as innovation

The nerve center at Al Jazeera's headquarters in Doha, Qatar
The nerve center at Al Jazeera's headquarters in Doha, Qatar
Silke Mülherr

The Egyptian revolution is the first ever to have been broadcast on live TV. For 18 days, the Qatar-based broadcaster Al Jazeera reported non-stop from Cairo's Tahrir Square, letting the young demonstrators have their say and filming the violence of regime thugs that followed. It was compelling coverage that told viewers: History is being made, and we at Al Jazeera are right here in the thick of it.

Weeks earlier, the broadcaster had been using video taken by a female blogger to report on the revolts in Tunisia. Lina Mhenni had filmed produce seller Mohamed Bouazizi‘s self-immolation and posted it on Facebook. Al Jazeera picked up on this, and gave Bouazizi's act a prominence it is unlikely to have had otherwise.

In a region where television is the leading medium, where less than one-third of people have Internet access, TV broadcasts are the only way to reach the masses. And during the 15 years Al Jazeera has been broadcasting, it has worked its way up to the No. 1 spot in the Arab world.

Its beginnings were humble. After a BBC project failed to gain a foothold in the region, in 1996 the Emir of Qatar launched Al Jazeera, meaning literally "The Island" in reference to the Arabian Peninsula. Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani hired the 17 reporters that had been working for the BBC, and from that point on, their scrutiny of Arab politics became a matter of principle.

An audience magnet were the US-style talk shows, where views for and against were publicly discussed – this was completely new in the Arab world. If to this day Al Jazeera shares similarities with CNN and the BBC in its style, the content of the broadcasts from Qatar is notably different. The Arab broadcaster, for example, relished every chance to highlight the double standard of US foreign policy during the Bush years.

By 2001, the perception in the West of Al Jazeera as a disturber of the peace and propaganda machine had changed and it started to be perceived as serious competition for established Western broadcasters. After the 9/11 attacks, it was the only one to have a bureau in Afghanistan and provided the world with images of the war that were also picked up by CNN.

When, in March 2003, the Iraq war began, Al Jazeera launched an English-language website. The move opened up a wide Western audience for the broadcaster, especially as the reporting in English was not a mere translation of Arabic content. If, for example, Al Jazeera's Arabic web page glorified suicide bombers as "martyrs', the English-language edition did not. Coverage also varied: North Africa and the Arab Peninsula constituted focal points for the Arabic website, while the English-language one was adapted to an international readership.

Not always independent

Financed primarily by the Qatari royal family, the news broadcaster has been changing perceptions in and about the region for 15 years. "Being financed by the royal family means that Al Jazeera doesn't have to become more commercial and take advertisers on board," says news chief Mustafa Souag.

That of course is by no means a guarantee of independent journalism. Al Jazeera's reporting on the Tunisian and Egyptian revolts, for example, was biased against the existing regimes sometimes to the extent of being blatantly in favor of the revolutionaries and their agenda.

Bias was particulary noticeable in the case of Libya. The relationship of the Emir of Qatar and former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was cloudy, and Sheikh Al Thani is said to have supported the rebels from the outset with money, weapons and fuel. As rebel incursions grew, Libya became the prime topic for Al Jazeera.

Some reproached the broadcaster for what was perceived as imaginative content creation, or for picking up on blatant misinformation such as the Transitional National Council's feeds about Gaddafi's black soldiers, which later turned out to be false propaganda.

The credibility of Al Jazeera as an independent voice in the Arab world also suffered from their noticeable downplay of the revolt in Bahrain, which they wrote off as "religion-fueled unrest." The double standard presumably comes from the fact that Bahrain, like Qatar, belongs to the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf, and is thus to be spared critical coverage.

There is no question that Al Jazeera brought a breath of fresh air to the Arab media landscape. However, the broadcaster is a prisoner to politics. The Emir of Qatar is said to still have the last word on content: when he says "hold back", that's what Al Jazeera journalists do.

Ironically, it could be the very Arab Spring that Al Jazeera's coverage pushed onto the agenda that could prove the broadcaster's downfall. Before the revolutions, audiences depended on the station to circumvent government propaganda. Should democratic structures and journalistic freedom take hold in the region, Al Jazeera will have to share the fertile terrain of open information with other Arab media.

Read the original article in German

Photo - Laika slips the lead

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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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