Qatar has been given a further 48 hours to comply with demands from nearby states that it close its TV station Al Jazeera and sever diplomatic ties as the price of lifting a trade embargo.
A ten-day ultimatum issued to Qatar by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt expired last night.
The 13-point list includes a demand to shut down Al Jazeera and its affiliate stations.
The channel has been broadcasting for twenty years, and for the last decade has also broadcast as Al Jazeera English across 130 countries. It employs some 3,000 staff worldwide and 80 editorial staff are based at its London Bridge offices in the Shard.
Saudi Arabia has made it illegal for its citizens to watch Al Jazeera.
Qatar’s foreign minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said on Saturday: “Everyone is aware that these demands are meant to infringe the sovereignty of the state of Qatar, shut the freedom of speech and impose auditing and probation mechanism for Qatar.
“We believe that the world is not governed by ultimatums, we believe that the world is governed by the international law, it is governed by an order that does not allow large countries to bully small countries.”
Al Jazeera English managing director Giles Trendle said he believes demands for the closure of Al Jazeera are driven by its coverage of the Arab spring uprisings of 2011.
He told Press Gazette: “Some countries’ ancien regimes didn’t appreciate that and still don’t appreciate that. Those are the countries that want to muzzle freedom of expression.”
He said he believed the current crisis is the worst that the channel has ever faced.
Those speaking up for Al Jazeera include BBC World Affairs editor John Simpson who said: “The idea of closing down one of the most energetic and intelligent voices in world broadcasting is really terrible.
“But it isn’t even that. I think Al Jazeera once or twice has come close to the edge for financial reasons, but to be closed down on for, as it were, ideological reasons is quite shocking and very disturbing for the future.
“We have just got to hope that some kind of compromise can be reached whereby Qatar keeps an independent voice for its broadcasters because without that, it’s a real, serious step backwards for the whole world.”