Sky News Arabia leads 'fake news' campaign targeting Qatar

Sky News Arabia leads 'fake news' campaign targeting Qatar
Sky News Arabia appears to have taken an active role in promoting regional conflict by spreading false comments attributed to the Emir of Qatar.
3 min read
24 May, 2017
Qatar last week said it was being targeted some media outlets [SkyNewsArabia]

Sky News Arabia, the Arabic-language franchise of the Murdoch-owned Sky News, appears to have taken an active role in promoting regional conflict by spreading false comments attributed to the Emir of Qatar, making no attempt to balance or verify its coverage.

Since hackers targeted Qatari state media late on Tuesday and published bogus reports attributed to the Qatari ruler on highly sensitive political issues, the Abu Dhabi-based channel has permitted the fake news to run in spite of a swift denial from Qatari authorities.

On Wednesday afternoon, Sky News Arabia continued to provide rolling news coverage of the hacked remarks, which said Sheikh Tamim had been critical of renewed tensions with Tehran, expressed understanding for Hizballah and suggested US President Donald Trump might not last in power.

The Arabic franchise of Sky News hosted numerous commenters overnight and into Wednesday to give their insight into the remarks, some attempting to paint the small gas-rich Gulf state as a close ally to Islamic extremists.

This is not the first time that Sky News Arabia has raised eyebrows, it regularly takes stances against democratic transition in the region, referring to the Arab Spring as the "so-called Arab Spring".

The New Arab has reached out to Sky News UK and Sky News Arabia for a comment but has yet to receive a response.

Similarly, the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya on Wednesday afternoon continued to feature the false remarks as its top story hours after they had been declared untrue.

Both the official Saudi Press Agency and official Emirates News Agency have failed to take down the reports.

"It is remarkable that these news outlets, which claim to be credible, have not asked a single Qatari political analyst to comment on the fake statement," Qatari media figure Jaber al-Harmi told The New Arab.

"This is the most basic rule of journalism, which confirms that their intentions are to harm Qatar and its relations with Gulf states," Harmi said.

He added that an official inquiry into the unprecedented security breach had begun and that the hackers behind the attack would be held accountable.

Read more: 'Fake-news' hack: pre-emptive strike on Qatar's independent foreign policy?

On Wednesday, a statement by the Qatari foreign ministry criticised "media outlets" for continuing to publish the comments.

"They should have verified the false remarks and stopped circulating them, especially after the government made an official statement," it read.

In an apparent response to the hacked remarks, Doha-based broadcaster Al-Jazeera was blocked for some time in the UAE.

The Al-Jazeera Arabic website was also inaccessible in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday morning.

Last week, Qatar said it was the target of a smear campaign by a number of media outlets.

In the past few years, Qatar made amends with Saudi Arabia and the UAE, following a period of tensions mainly over Doha's independent foreign policy that diverges from those of Riyadh and Abu Dhabi. 

Qatar continues to host leaders of Palestinian Islamist resistance group Hamas, to which the UAE and Saudi Arabia are hostile. Qatar has come out against the military coup in Egypt led by the ally of Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi. 

From Syria to Tunisia via Libya, Doha toes a different line from those of its two Gulf neighbours, which also accuse Qatar of backing Muslim Brotherhood groups including in their territories, despite its denials.