Al Jazeera causes Tunisian stir
by Chris Newbould

Al-Jazeera’s coverage of the Sidi Bouzid protests in Tunisia has split the country’s population, with some citizens praising the Qatari network for filling a media void and others slamming the news reports, particularly the use of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter as a source, as biased and unprofessional.

The pan-Arab satellite TV network began airing reports as soon as the crisis erupted on December 18th, when Tunisian police clashed with Sidi Bouzid youths. The demonstration against unemployment began when a young merchant set himself on fire after authorities seized his goods. At least one person died in clashes with security forces, and protests have since spread to several other cities.

Both government and opposition politicians have criticized the coverage, claiming hostility, exaggeration and bias. The Unionist Democratic Union party slammed Al Jazeera in a statement: "Al Jazeera's reliance in its coverage of events on content of videos and pictures posted on the social networking website Facebook without doing much examination and investigation and without verifying the authenticity of published content has committed several professional violations, especially about the size of protests and their correct background, exaggerating their real size on the ground."

Journalist Najia Ghenimi, from Tunisia’s al Khabeer, commented: “"In my opinion, this was a reaction by Al Jazeera to denying them an office in Tunisia and to blocking their website." She went on to accuse Al Jazeera of taking advantage of the Tunisian media blackout of the events to gain the attention of Tunisians and expand its presence.