On Nov. 3, Kuwaiti officials shut down the local offices of the Arab-language network Al-Jazeera, alleging its coverage of recent Kuwaiti issues lacked objectivity. The move was reportedly prompted by the network's coverage of four recent incidents in which gunfire was directed at American forces based in Kuwait -- one of which resulted in the death of an American Marine -- and its reporting that a large portion of the country's territory had been temporarily closed so that joint U.S.-Kuwaiti military exercises could be conducted near the Iraqi border.
How do Kuwaitis themselves view Al-Jazeera, the channel that they -- like Saudis, Jordanians, and Lebanese -- told the 2002 Gallup Poll of the Islamic World they are most likely to turn to first to catch up on world events?
More than half of Kuwait's residents (54%) say they feel that Al-Jazeera's news coverage is objective. This is the highest rating accorded by Kuwaitis to any of the 16 local, regional and global channels tested on this measure -- only the non-governmental pan-Arab Middle East Broadcasting Center (MBC) network comes close (51%).
Those figures contrast sharply with Kuwaitis' ratings of the objectivity of their own nation's programming. Only 19% of Kuwaiti residents told Gallup that the description "objective" applies to the state-run Kuwait TV Satellite Channel. Even those holding formal Kuwaiti citizenship -- less than half the kingdom's 2 million permanent residents -- are nearly twice as likely to describe Al-Jazeera as objective than Kuwait's own state-run channel (48% vs. 25%).
These perceptions are not an isolated phenomenon. Increasingly, citizens in Arab nations are spurning state-run networks and choosing pan-Arab satellite channels as their preferred source for foreign news coverage. These channels include Al-Jazeera and the less controversial MBC -- also privately run and financed by Saudi business tycoon Sheikh Waleed bin Ibrahim Al Ibrahim. Even U.S.-based CNN has managed to leave a significant footprint within the region. Fully 40% of those in Kuwait -- as well as 15% of Saudis and 7% of Jordanians -- told Gallup they had tuned in to CNN at least once in the last seven days.
Comprehensiveness of News Coverage
Al-Jazeera's trump card for its growing viewership is the fact that its news coverage, unlike that of state-run networks, is seen as both comprehensive and daring. For example, overwhelming proportions of Kuwaitis (85%), Saudis (61%) and Jordanians (70%) see Al-Jazeera as offering comprehensive news coverage, as do a majority of Moroccans (53%). (Many in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, also give MBC positive ratings for comprehensiveness -- 47% and 44%, respectively.)
In sharp contrast, in none of these four countries does more than a tiny minority cite any state-owned network as offering comprehensive journalistic coverage (Morocco's RTM TV received the highest rating at 11%). Even more telling is the fact that even CNN finishes ahead of any local state-owned network in the perceived comprehensiveness of its news coverage in three of these nations -- Kuwait (26%), Saudi Arabia (16%), and Jordan (10%).
Patterns among Arabs' perceptions of their local network's tendency to provide "daring, unedited news" are similar, though even more pronounced. Across these four nations, the highest rating accorded to any state-owned network in this regard is 8%, in Morocco. Yet the percentages of residents who associate daring, unedited coverage with Al-Jazeera (Kuwait: 87%, Jordan: 71%, Saudi Arabia: 66%, Morocco: 55%) are as high, or higher, than those who view that network's coverage as comprehensive.
Kuwaitis are far more likely to view Al-Jazeera and MBC as objective than they are their own state-run network. A similar pattern holds in Jordan, where both Al-Jazeera (51%) and MBC (21%) finish ahead of Jordan's JRTV Channel 1 (16%). In Morocco, where viewership of state-owned RTM TV far outpaces that of Al-Jazeera, Al-Jazeera nevertheless holds a strong advantage in the perceived objectivity of its news coverage (Al-Jazeera: 48%, RTM: 14%).
In Saudi Arabia, the country's own state-run network, Saudi Channel 1, runs statistically even (38%) with both Al-Jazeera (38%) and MBC (37%) in terms of the perceived objectivity of its coverage. Those with Saudi citizenship, however, are slightly more likely to view Saudi Channel 1 as objective (41%) than to say the same about Al-Jazeera (37%). On the other hand, the country's large "Arab expat" population is more likely to see Al-Jazeera's news coverage as objective (41%) than that of state-owned Saudi Channel 1 (33%).
Despite its sizable viewership in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, CNN gets low marks across the board for objectivity (Kuwait: 11%, Saudi Arabia: 7%, Jordan: 5%, Morocco: 2%).