Al-Jazeera Coverage

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Al Jazeera reporter Steve Chao in the Himalayas

Al-Jazeera has more than 60 correspondents around the world and a modern news room full of computers and banks of television screens. It has a 24-hour format with hourly bulletins, news features, sport shows, interview programs and panel discussions. The style is not all that different from CNN or BBC. There are female anchor who appear with fancy make-up and hair styles and no veils or head covers. There are even occasional guest from Israel on the show.

Al-Jazeera is known for aggressive reporting on Arab issues, presenting the news from an Arab perspective and presenting conflicting viewpoints, something that is rare in the Arab world.. Its motto is “The Opinion, and the Other Opinion Too.” Many Al-Jaazera reporters were trained by the BBC.

Al-Jazeera has been accused of presenting news with an anti-American and anti-Israeli bias and pandering to Arab prejudices. A news room editor at Al-Jazeera told the Los Angeles Times that it clearly had its biases but only towards the “humanitarian” side of issues.

One of the main problems for Al-Jazeera and other Arab news channels is the danger its employees and information sources face from governments, who can not only harass and arrest reporters but also harass and arrest any local people who speak to them. Many countries where the station operates keep close tabs on reporters and restrict their movements. Reporters are denied access to the inner workings of the government, leaving noone outside the government with any real idea of how decisions are made.

Websites and Resources: Arabs: Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Who Is an Arab? ; Encyclopædia Britannica article ; Arab Cultural Awareness ; Arab Cultural Center ; 'Face' Among the Arabs, CIA ; Arab American Institute ; Introduction to the Arabic Language ; Wikipedia article on the Arabic language Wikipedia

Al-Jazeera Reporters on the Front Line

Al-Jaazera has a reputation for having reporters in places that Western journalists can not reach, especially in trouble spots in the Muslim world and Middle East. Tayser Alouni, a Syrian with a Spanish passport, interviewed Osama bin Laden shortly after September 11th. In Spain he was awarded a peace prize by a Spanish peace group and arrested on charges of providing money and information to Al-Qaida operatives.

Al Jazeera shot of M23 troops in the lawless Bunagana area of the Congo

Ahmed Mansour was famous for reporting about civilian casualties in Iraq. Majed Abdel Hadi, a Palestinian reporter, filed dispatches from Tora Bora, bin Laden’s purported hideout, during the war in Afghanistan and from Baghdad during the war in Iraq. The popular reporter Tariq Ayyoub was killed by U.S. bullets. Atwar Bahjat, a female Iraqi reporter, covered stories all over Iraq, penetrating many places Western journalists couldn’t get near. She survived a roadside bomb attack that obliterated a car she was in and watched fellow Iraqis die right before her eyes.

Yosri Fouda hosted a monthly show called “Top Secret”. He did an interview with the father of September 11th hijacker Muhammad Atta and broadcast Khalid Shaikh Muhammad’s explanation of the how he masterminded the September 11th attack. To pull off the latter he flew from London to Islamabad and then Karachi, where he checked into a cheap hotel and left from the backdoor into a taxi then went to a restaurant where he was given instructions to go to a market and give a password to an operative there and take a motorized rickshaw to a house where he met a new operative, gave a new password, and was placed into a car and blindfolded and then taken to a secret location to met Khalid.

Al-Jazeera and the Middle East

Arab leaders are criticized for suppressing democracy and persecuting dissidents. Opposition leaders from all over the Middle East and Muslim world, many of them living in exile, have come to Al-Jazeera studios to criticize the leaders and governments of their home countries.

Al Jazeera coverage of struggle in Tahris Square of Cairo during Arab Spring, 2011

Many Arab leaders hate Al-Jazeera because of its criticism and unflattering coverage. Kuwait, Jordan and the Palestinian authority have all closed Al-Jazeera news bureaus. Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have barred Al-Jazeera reporters from entering their country. Morocco, Tunisia and Libya and other Arab countries have recalled their ambassadors from Qatar.

The Algerian government once cut off the electricity in several cities to keep Al-Jazeera from broadcasting about the civil war there. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak once said the network “made a lot of noise for a little matchbox.” There were reports that one Persian Gulf state offered Qatar $5 billion to shut the Al-Jazeera down. As of May 2005, Al-Jazeera reporters were banned in Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Kuwait and Iraq. Iran suspended the network’s coverage rights and threatened to prosecute the station.

In 2005, Al-Jazeera gave widespread coverage to streets protest in Lebanon after the assassination of Rafic Hariri, elections in Palestine and Iraq, and the Kifaya reform movement in Egypt. It also ran long stories on the fight for women’s rights in Kuwait and human rights investigations in Morocco as well as the death of Pope John Paul II and American elections.

Al-Jazeera and the Palestinian Conflict in the 2000s

The intifada of the early 2000s was for Al-Jazeera what the first Persian Gulf war in the early 1990s was for CNN. Al-Jazeera covered the brutality of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories on a daily basis and often has guests that rabidly denounced Israel and the United States.

smoke from an Israeli bomb after it exploded in a residential area of Gaza

Almost everyday there were images—often quite grisly and graphic—of civilians killed in Israeli missile attacks and Palestinians being humiliated and brutalized by Israeli soldiers. A 12-year-old Palestinian boy who was caught on film being shot and killed while at his father’s side practically became an Al-Jazeera logo.

Al-Jazeera coverage helped focus Arab attention on the Palestinian issue in a way that had never occurred before. Arabs became stirred up and passionate about the issue and united in their anger. A greater demand was made on leaders in the Arab world to do something. The Israeli government criticized Al-Jazeera for inciting Palestinians to riot but allowed Al-Jazeera reporters to roam freely in Israel.

Jewish groups claim Al-Jaazera disseminated anti-Semitic hate speech, provided a platform for hatemongers and broadcast “stereotypical characterizations of Jews that resort to classic Judeophobic themes such as the image of the Jews as an alien, evil, world-dominating, conspiratorial force.”

Al-Jazeera and the United States

Al Jazeera increased the size of its Washington bureau in 2002 from six to 24. It has reporters assigned to the White House, Pentagon and State Department. During the Bush era it interviewed Colin Powell and Condaleza Rice as well as former Klu Klux Clan members. It also presented preposterous conspiracy theories about Jews being behind the September 11th attack as news. Its reporters have been expelled from the New York Stock Exchange.

Al-Jazeera was criticized by the United States for not providing balanced reporting on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Israel -Palestinian conflict, terrorism and the events that followed the attack on the World Trade Center in New York on September 11, 2001. An editor with the station told AP, “Because this comes from the United States, which considers itself the strongest advocate of freedom of expression, it comes as very strange and unacceptable.”

Al Jazeera at the Republican convention in 2008

In July 2004, partly in response to American accusations, Al-Jazeera issued a new code of ethics and vowed to maintain its “honesty, courage, fairness, balance and independence.” It also made a few vocabulary changes such as referring to American and coalition troops as “multinational forces” rather than an “invading army.” The station still insisted on calling dead Palestinian militants “martyrs.”

Al-Jazeera and the Bush Administration

U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has accused Al-Jazeera of being “violently anti-coalition” and said “the quality of the journalism is outrageous—inexcusably biased—and there is nothing you can do about it except try to counteract it.” Rumsfeld has accuse the station of collaborating with Iraqi insurgents and encouraging them to attack U.S. troops so they can get good video images.

In November 2005, the British newspaper the Daily Mirror leaked a document that indicated that in a meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, U.S. President Bush said he wanted to bomb Al-Jazeera’s main office in Qatar. The White house said the charges were “so outlandish” they “did not merit a response.”

In response to accusations of bias, a managing editor for Al-Jazeera said that his station broadcasts “reality through our eyes” and the expresses the frustration of Arabs. A spokesman with the station said, “Al Jazeera always presents the facts on the ground, in a very professional and understandable manner, allowing for different opinions. We don’t deal in politics but in news...We are not going to censor ourselves. It is not our job to make things look good or bad.”

Al-Jazeera and Osama bin Laden

Al-Jaazera became famous after September 11th when it broadcast messages from Osama bin Laden. Al-Jazeera showed the Arab world’s first interview with Osama bin Laden in June 1999. It also showed the first pictures of Osama bin Laden at his son’s wedding.

All the Osama bin Laden video and audio tapes after September 11th appeared first on Al-Jazeera. At least one of them were handed over in cloak and dagger style in a Karachi market.

The United States was highly critical of the platform and exposure that Al-Jazeera gave Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaida. Some American officials accused Al-Jazeera of being “All Osama All the Time.” In the days after September 11th the station portrayed bin Laden as a kind of Arab hero and broadcast video tapes in which Osama bin Laden presented his side on various issues and Al-Qaida activities.

Al-Jazeera in Afghanistan and Iraq

An Al-Jazeera office in Kabul was bombed by American warplanes during the war in Afghanistan in 2001-2002. The United States insist it was an accident. During the war in Afghanistan, Al-Jazeera was the only station in Kabul and Kandahar during the early part of the war. It showed the devastation and civilian casualties caused by American bombing.

Taliban in Herat in 2001

During the second Persian Gulf War in the early 2000s, Al-Jazeera showed graphic footage of dead American soldiers and showed scared American prisoners of war; it broadcast messages from Saddam Hussein not to give up the fight; and called the conflict the “American Invasion of Iraq” rather than the “War in Iraq.” A video tape dated March 2000 found in Baghdad showed Saddam Hussein’s son Odai thanking Al-Jazeera manager Muhammad Jassen el-Ali, who tells Odai “Al-Jazeera is your channel” and Odai saying that “some idea” proposed in previous meeting that he proposed led to “some changes.” Ali was dismissed from Al-Jazeera shortly after the United States invaded Iraq.

An Al-Jazeera office in Baghdad was hit by U.S. missiles during the war in Iraq in 2003 and its popular reporter Tariq Ayyoub was killed by U.S. bullets. The United States insist these incidents were accidents. Other Al-Jazeera reporters have been locked for being in cahoots with insurgents. In May 2003, a mob surrounded a Al-Jazeera crew in Basra and accused them of supporting Saddam Hussein. No one was hurt.

Al-Jazeera Coverage of the American Occupation of Iraq

Al-Jaazera, echoing a prevailing view in the Arab and Muslim world, saw the Americans as occupiers rather than liberators and emphasized civilian casualties over military victories. After American bombing raids and offensives in places like Fallujah Al-Jazeera showed images bodies of children and old men buried under the rubble. The station also showed American soldiers roughing up civilians, doing body searches of women, knocking down doors in the middle of the night, and hogtying and stepping on the faces of suspected militants.

Al Jazeera shot of a woman voting in Najaf, Iraq

Al-Jazeera also aired footage of insurgent strikes on U.S. troops. The insurgents and the Arab media often helped each other. Al-Jazeera showed images of the fighting to help boost their rating and prestige, The images in turn gave the insurgents and their cause lots of exposure. There were reports of some camera men egging on demonstrators and insurgents so they could get more dramatic footage.

Al-Jazeera and other Arabic language television stations regularly ran video tapes of hostages and their captors but didn’t show the beheadings. In the videos masked kidnappers listed their demands and deadlines and the hostages pleaded for their lives and told those with the power to free them to give the kidnappers what they wanted. The beheadings were shown on jihadist websites. The United States government condemned the broadcasts for encouraging the kidnappers and making negotiations for the hostage’s release more difficult. Al-Jazeera defended its coverage on the basis of “freedom of the press” and “people’s right to know.”

The United States said that Al-Jazeera was directly responsible for some of the tragedies that took place in Iraq and accused the network of being tipped off on insurgent attacks based on the fact that their reporters showed before the attacks took place. The network was also less than shy than Western stations about showing dead, mangled and dismembered bodies.

Image Sources: Wikimedia, Commons

Text Sources: National Geographic, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The Guardian, BBC, Al Jazeera, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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