The Arab Spring revolutions: Al Jazeera’s galvanizing effect
The political unrests known as “Arab Spring revolutions” became emblematic with both social media networks (namely Facebook) and Al Jazeera. When the protests started in Tunisia on 17 December 2010, the Aljazeera network dedicated its leading satellite and digital platforms to 24-hour rolling coverage of the events. Al Jazeera Arabic, Al Jazeera English, and Al Jazeera Mubasher (which means Aljazeera live), as well as its digital platforms (AJ+ Arabic and AJ+ English), all had full commitment to the minute-by-minute development of events on the ground (Norris, 2017).
The ever-evolving new digital technologies have kept Aljazeera’s live content incessantly in flux. In addition to the earlier mentioned platforms, Aljazeera Mubasher Egypt was launched in January 2011, a live streaming channel dedicated to reporting news and analysis from Egypt.
The channel was available both on satellite and online via http://mubasher.aljazeera.net. While the content was mainly news and current affairs coverage, the channel reported other live events like conferences, debates, key speeches or press conferences, demonstrations, vigils, or any other deemed newsworthy content.
As noted earlier, the Arab Spring revolutions have been pivotal historical moments that popularized Al Jazeera, but they were also times to test the integrity of the network. Although its various channels have received mounting criticism regarding the evident support for protesters against the regimes of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and Syria (Bakr, 2014), Aljazeera Arabic as well as its sister channels were decisive in promoting people s struggle for democracy and freedom in those countries. It was clear since the beginning of the unrests in Tunisia, for example, that Aljazeera sided with the Arab public who have been yearning for regime change for decades under the rule of Zein Elabidine Ben Ali. The same goes regarding the regimes of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, Abdallah Saleh in Yemen, and later Bashar Alassad in Syria. The airwaves remained open to members of the public and political and human rights activists from across the Arab world to voice their wrath in criticizing corrupt regimes and their poor performance.
Wadah Kanfar (former director general of the Al Jazeera network) unveiled how during those events the camera was a crucial tool for protecting the protesters in Tahrir Square in Egypt. Whether in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, or Yemen, he argued,
Al Jazeera explicitly associates its news reporting to fighting for democracy and free speech in those countries. The network sees itself as the voice of the voiceless and a platform of free speech for those who have none. The revolt in Libya was topping the news and it was described as civil war. In Gaddafi’s view, the West was using humanitarianism as a cover to seize control of Libya’s oil wealth. Hassan Al Jaber (Aljazeera’s camera operator) killed in Libya — likely a targeted killing. Beliefs have been circulating among Al Jazeera staff that Gaddafi put out a bounty on their heads.
Building on that analysis, the Al Jazeera snowball effect on the Arab Spring events was unmistakable. The galvanizing impact was further aided by providing exposure to social media activists. The camera-bearing citizen or the citizen journalist has become the witness and sometimes the maker of the history of our time. During the events leading to the Tunisian revolution, for instance, there was obvious synchronization between Al Jazeera news reports and social media networks. User-generated material from activists in the field was gathered, sifted, and selected to support its news coverage. Namely, where the network did not have regular reporters, it capitalized on social media networks’ content and videos sent to its newsrooms by citizen journalists. Such news scoops were amplified by Al Jazeera news channels and turned into credible news stories that attract attention from around the world (Hassan and Elmasry, 2018).
During the Tunisian revolution. Facebook groups increased exponentially in number. These platforms served as valuable sources of news for Aljazeera’s channels. Groups like “Tunis” and “Tunisia” had over 600,000 people subscribing at the time. Activists used to wait for Hasaad Al-Yau’in (Aljazeera’s flagship evening news program) and Al-H
Consequently, the opening up of social media platforms as a residue of diverse narratives about the Arab revolutions presented a multiplicity of perspectives. Through bringing these different voices coming from within the Arab region and beyond both in its news and documentary programs, Al Jazeera symbolized a unifying platform for these voices and a fusing mechanism that made sense of all of the divergent narratives. All of this process was efficiently achieved in Al Jazeeras newsrooms aided by an army of editors and researchers in its offices around the world. Aljazeera has been adapting with this fast-developing socio-political atmosphere in the region and responding to the fast-growing “eco-media” reality overwhelmed by social media networks.
It is worth noting that Al Jazeera has gained trust not only from millions of viewers from around the world but also journalists who appreciate its daring journalism. On 25 February 2011, journalists of Tunisia TV went on strike, and the main news program at 8 pm was not broadcast for the first time. One of the journalists was interviewed on Al-H