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As US Media Sources Refuse To Interview Iraqis:US Asks Qatar To Censor Al Jazeera
The United States warned the Persian Gulf state of Qatar yesterday that an otherwise strong relationship between the two nations is being harmed by "false" and "inflammatory" anti-American coverage of Iraq by the Qatar-based Arab television network Al Jazeera.
In January the network was banned by Iraq’s interim governing council from covering its activities for one month for making “accusations against certain council members.”
And as a condition for reaching a settlement with insurgents in still-besieged Fallujah, American forces demanded the expulsion of all Al-Jazeera reporters, with Kimmitt characterizing their coverage of the stand-off as nothing but a “series of lies.”
Clearly, U.S. government officials aren’t fans of the network.
Al-Jazeera has been blamed for everything from biased reporting to inciting violence to willfully helping Al-Qaeda. They’re either with us or with the terrorists, or so the thinking goes.
Problem is, and this is clearly a problem for proponents of the official American line; Al-Jazeera is not just as fair and as balanced as CNN, MSNBC or FOX, news sources whose coverage we often accept in its unquestioned form even though most of us know better. Al-Jazeera is actually more fair more and more balanced – yes, more – than their American counterparts.
For the majority of Americans who only receive and evaluate their news through the lone prism of the major American media sources, you will continue to get half the story, the more questionable half, unless you start turning to Al-Jazeera’s new English-language Web site.
The New York Times as well as a host of other papers have lauded Al-Jazeera for its balanced coverage in a part of the world not known for such brazen truth-finding and civic independence.
Unlike the American media, Al-Jazeera is reluctant to focus solely and exclusively on the plight of American soldiers like Jessica Lynch, or the four security officers burned in Fallujah, the rash of kidnappings, the NFL star who gave it all up to fight for his country, the number of daily American dead usually displayed prominently on any newspaper front page, sometimes followed – not always, but sometimes – by the rough ballpark figure of nameless Iraqi dead that accompanied the American slain.
Al-Jazeera does not ignore the American side, not at all. Al-Jazeera achieves balanced coverage by not only covering the American successes and tragedies found in our own media with the same fitting treatment, Al-Jazeera also gives the Iraqi side a face and a voice you will never find in CNN or FOX. At the same time, Al-Jazeera will not shy away from criticizing the very governments and people the U.S. official line accuses them of supporting. Many Arab governments are even more critical of Al-Jazeera than our own government.
We all know more than 800 Americans have died in Iraq since the war began. How many Iraqis have died? Not just Iraqi “insurgents,” but Iraqi civilians. We get to hear the mother of the latest U.S. casualty speak about her son, what about those same words from the mother of the latest civilian dead? Beyond the latest attack and latest act of terrorism, what is life like in Iraq for the everyday Iraqi? To answer these questions, look to Al-Jazeera.
Al-Jazeera has a track record of accurate reporting - which is why its journalists have been criminalised and its offices bombed
Wednesday April 21, 2004
When US forces recently demanded that a team from the Arabic TV station al-Jazeera leave Falluja as a condition for reaching a ceasefire with the local resistance, it came as no surprise at the network's headquarters in Doha. Reliable sources there say that coalition officials threatened to close down the al-Jazeera bureau in Baghdad earlier this year and last week sent a letter accusing the network of violating the Geneva convention and the principles of a free press.
Since the "war on terror" began, al-Jazeera has been a thorn in the side of the Pentagon. "My solution is to change the channel," Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt said this month in Baghdad, "to a legitimate, authoritative, honest news station. The stations that are showing Americans intentionally killing women and children are not legitimate news sources."
The trouble for Kimmitt is that millions of people in the Middle East disagree. Al-Jazeera has become the most popular TV network in the region - with a daily audience of 35 million - precisely because it has shown the human carnage that US military onslaughts leave in their wake. If it became a "legitimate, authoritative, honest news station" of the kind that routinely censors the realities of US military operations, it would lose its audience.
The al-Jazeera reports of US snipers firing at women and children in the streets of Falluja have now been corroborated by international observers in the city. Perhaps it is natural that a military force should seek to suppress evidence that could be used against it in future war crimes trials. But it is equally natural that a free media should resist.
Democratising the Middle East may have been the neo-cons' case for the conquest of Iraq. But on the ground, the US is acting against the flowering of Middle East media freedom, which al-Jazeera initiated.
The station was launched in 1996, by disenchanted BBC journalists, after Saudi investors pulled the plug on the Arabic TV division of the BBC News service. Since then, it has spawned a plethora of competitors such as EDTV, Abu Dhabi TV, the Lebanese Broadcasting Company and, most significantly, al-Arabiya. Like al-Jazeera, al-Arabiya has been banned by the US-appointed Iraqi governing council for weeks at a time for "incitement to murder", after airing tapes of Saddam Hussein. Two of its journalists were shot dead by US forces at a US checkpoint in March.
Last November, George Bush declared that successful societies "limit the power of the state and the military ... and allow room for independent newspapers and broadcast media". But three days earlier, an al-Jazeera camera man, Salah Hassan, had been arrested in Iraq, held incommunicado in a chicken-coup-sized cell and forced to stand hooded, bound and naked for up to 11 hours at a time. He was beaten by US soldiers who would address him only as "al-Jazeera" or "bitch". Finally, after a month, he was dumped on a street just outside Baghdad, in the same vomit-stained red jumpsuit that he had been detained in.
Twenty other al-Jazeera journalists have been arrested and jailed by US forces in Iraq and one, Tariq Ayoub, was killed last April when a US tank fired a shell at the al-Jazeera offices in Baghdad's Palestine hotel. It was an accident, the Pentagon said, even though al-Jazeera had given the Pentagon the coordinates of its Baghdad offices before the war began.
As the invasion was getting underway, aljazeera.net was taken offline by a hacker attack mounted from California by John William Racine III. With a maximum tariff of 25 years available, the US attorney's office agreed a sentence of 1,000 hours community service.
Ever since al-Jazeera broadcast videotapes of Osama bin Laden in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Washington has treated it like a fifth column. There have been allegations that intense pressure from the White House led the network to silence some of its more outspoken journalists, such as aljazeera.net's senior website editor, Yvonne Ridley, who was dismissed in November 2003.
In the weeks following 9/11, Colin Powell visited Emir al-Thani, the ruler of Qatar - and financier of al-Jazeera - to request that he rein in his country's free press. The emir went public about Powell's mission and, during the subsequent war in Afghanistan, al-Jazeera's offices in Kabul were bombed - by accident, the Pentagon said.
Sami al-Haj, an al-Jazeera cameraman seized in Afghanistan, remains detained in Guantánamo Bay to this day, and al-Jazeera's journalists in the west have been singled out. After attending the European social forum in Paris, I myself was detained for an hour by British special branch officers at Waterloo station. The questioning focused on my employer. The officers also wanted information about other al-Jazeera journalists in Paris and London, and asked if I would speak to someone in their office on a regular basis about my work contacts. I declined both requests.
The targeting of al-Jazeera is all the more remarkable, given that it is the only Arab TV network to routinely offer Israeli, US and British officials a platform to argue their case. The Israeli cabinet minister Gideon Ezra famously told the Jerusalem Post: "I wish all Arab media were like al-Jazeera". Kenton Keith, the former US ambassador to Qatar, commented: "You have to be a supporter of al-Jazeera, even if you have to hold your nose sometimes."
Al-Jazeera has a track record of honest and accurate reporting, and has maintained a principled pluralism in the face of brutal and authoritarian regimes within the region, and increasingly from those without. This is why it has been vilified, criminalised and bombed. It is also why it should be defended by those who genuinely believe that successful societies depend upon an independent media.
On the April 27th 2004 Talk Of The Nation on NPR (do a search on http://www.npr.org/programs/totn/) an attempt to provide ballanced coverage included first a report from an embedded reporter who wasn't able to talk to Iraqis and then an interview with US military experts who wanted to use a "nailed fist" on Fallujah and "teach the Sunnis a lesson" that they will "no longer have power" in a democratic Iraq. The show ended with an interview with an Iraqi. The Iraqi was living in New York and used to be a leader of the Iraqi National Congress (the group that provided the phoney WMD info to the CIA and that all polls show to be one of the most despised groups in Iraq). The interview treated the INC spokesperson as representative of the view of Iraqis. He was more skeptical about US action towards Fallujah (perhaps since Chalabi doesnt wants to look like he is 100% collaborating with the US), but the Iraqi being interviewed had little response to a US Marine who called in saying that most veterans and US troops in Iraq think Fallujah should be "flattened" (which could mean the death of 300,000 civilians).
An actual Iraqi living in Baghdad has some revealing details of how controlled US media coverage has become:
USA Today reporter visited us few days ago.
We talked about this site, when we started to blog and why.
Then I called the women and chidren from Falloja who were staying with their
relatives next door so he would interview them.
The fighting at Falloja was very intense at that time.
Then the article was published (
http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/iraq/2004-04-20-bloggers_x.htm ). It was
tasteless and meaningless and he didn't write a word about the Falloja
residents he met.
What exactly happened to César the reporter? I don't know...
But I can picture him apologizing and saying this is the way our media is,
sorry I couldn't write about them.
Thank you César.I understand what happened. You always show half of the
This is what I think would happen to the CNN reporter.
He won't air the film or he'll edit it so -again- it'll be meaningless,
empty and trivial.
I look at the USA, the land of freedom and democracy from Baghdad, the land
of destruction, devastation and sadness, and I smile bitterly and wonder
about the meaning of such words: freedom and democracy.
Or what's left of them.