The French wire service, seeking to verify a previously published news item, discovered that this was fabricated. It followed the convention of international news outlets by notifying subscribers around the world that the information was incorrect and should not have been repeated.
AFP had quoted a piece from Al-Jazeera saying it continued to lead Arabic news channels in viewership. The claim was apparently based on a study conducted by two media firms in 21 countries in the Middle East and North Africa.
AFP later discovered that the study AlJazeera.net cited did not exist. A spokesman for the wire service told Asharq Al-Awsat that the report had been removed.
“After it became clear that the news was incorrect, we asked our subscribers to ignore it,” he said.
“We quoted the news from Al-Jazeera itself. However, Ipsos, the firm said to have conducted the survey, said it had studied only 11 Middle Eastern countries and that no other joint survey regarding Arab news channel viewership was carried out.”
Ipsos also sent a clarifying statement to AFP in which Chairman of the Board Edward Monan said that AlJazeera.net’s report claimed that Ipsos had gathered statistics from a random sample of residents aged over 15 in 21 Arab countries. In fact, the Middle East and North Africa division of Ipsos studied television viewership in only 11 countries.
“The same report indicated that Ipsos and Sigma had jointly conducted the study,” Monan said.
“In reality, there was no joint study on this topic and Sigma specializes in conducting surveys in North Africa alone.”
Monan concluded: “When carrying out any study, Ipsos relies upon precise information drawn from every country included in the study and not on statistically unsupported approximations.”
Al-Jazeera issued a statement reiterating that the firms Ipsos and Sigma had carried out a study last March confirming “Al-Jazeera’s superiority over its competitors in the Middle East and North Africa in terms of daily viewership,” with a gap of 34 percentage points between Al-Jazeera and all its competitors combined.
The supposed study focused on news channels alone. Twenty-five million people were said to have identified themselves as viewers of Al-Jazeera, compared with 14.5 million who cited Al-Arabiya.
Osama Saeed, head of the Department of Media and International Relations at Al-Jazeera, confirmed by telephone that the Qatari channel would stand by what it had said despite the retraction by AFP. He questioned AFP’s withholding of the news, insisting that Al-Jazeera was sticking to published statistics. He repeated that his channel remains indisputably the leading Arabic news provider.
Media sources in Doha told Asharq Al-Awsat that Al-Jazeera’s actions could have been an attempt to manipulate the numbers in the face of a declining viewership over the last several months. They said that Al-Jazeera had combined two studies without clarifying that they had done so.
The results of the survey come at a time when many news sites are reporting a slide in viewership. Al-Jazeera has seen a particularly large drop in light of what some have described as an unprofessional degree of subjectivity in dealing with the Syrian crisis and the events of the “Arab Spring.”
A report recently published by the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet indicates a dramatic decline in Al-Jazeera’s viewership in the Arab region, with repercussions for the channel’s English division.
According to the Swedish paper, viewership declined as much as 86 percent, a number that appears to have caused concern among the channel’s leadership, as it circulated a confidential report on the subject. The paper stated that in Tunis, for example, the birthplace of the Arab Spring, the number of Al-Jazeera subscribers fell from 950,000 to 200,000.
The newspaper claims that this trend also applies to varying degrees in other Arab countries.
In a recent article for the cultural supplement of the Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet, Karine Østveitt said that four out of five viewers had stopped watching Al-Jazeera.
“The policy of double standards was the reason why many left the ranks of Al Jazeera’s viewers,” she noted.
She added that with the beginning of the Arab Spring, it became clear to everyone that Al-Jazeera possessed a political and ideological agenda that meshed with the interests of political Islam. This was eminently clear from the channel’s treatment of events, she added, both in the scope and the quality of its coverage.