Backlash Against Al Jazeera

Elizabeth Ptacek

Al Jazeera’s coverage has gotten it kicked out of both the New York Stock Exchange and Iraq.
Qatar-based news network Al Jazeera has taken a beating for its efforts to show, in detail, the human toll of the war in Iraq. Although Al Jazeera’s war coverage was aided in part by the Pentagon, which initially offered the network four of its coveted “embedded” positions, officials in the United States and Britain are now accusing the network of “disgraceful behavior.” Al Jazeera broadcasts have included footage of coalition POWs and gruesome coverage of casualties suffered on both sides, including Iraqi civilians.

In an interview with CNN’s Late Edition, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld chastised networks, like Al Jazeera, which chose to air Iraqi-conducted interviews with American POWs, saying that the interviews violated the Geneva conventions. Human Rights Watch issued a response criticizing both the Iraqi regime and the United States. The “provision protecting POWs from ‘public curiosity’ [in the Geneva conventions] appears to have been violated by both the Iraqi and the U.S. governments,” the group wrote.

In an interview on NPR, Secretary of State Colin Powell also complained, “Al Jazeera has an editorial line and a way presenting news that appeals to the Arab public. They … magnify the minor successes of the regime. And they tend to portray our efforts in a negative light.”

At press time, repercussions for Al Jazeera’s coverage have extended far beyond Rumsfeld’s and Powell’s disapproval. After the network posted images of American POWs, hackers attacked the network’s English and Arabic Web sites. The all-Arabic Al Jazeera had sought to expand its distribution by launching an English language Web site on March 24. By the following day, both Al Jazeera’s English and Arabic Web sites were inaccessible due to constant cyber attacks. In one such attack, a group calling itself the “Freedom Cyber Force Militia” managed to reroute visitors to a Web site featuring a U.S. stars and stripes logo. Al Jazeera has since been able to restore the sites (though on European servers: Its U.S. Web hosting company, DataPipe, withdrew service, saying the hacking was having adverse effects on other customers).

Moreover, the NYSE decided to revoke Al Jazeera’s credentials just days after the network angered U.S. government officials with its war coverage. Citing “security precautions,” the spokesman said, “We’ve had to focus our efforts on networks that focus on responsible business coverage.” Al Jazeera had provided business coverage from the NYSE for more than five years and has an audience of more than 35 million people worldwide.

Nasdaq quickly followed suit. Spurned by the NYSE, Al Jazeera asked for access to the Nasdaq trading forum to continue its coverage of the U.S. stock exchange; its request was also denied. A spokesman told the Los Angeles Times that Nasdaq’s decision came “in light of Al Jazeera’s recent conduct during the war, in which they have broadcast footage of U.S. POWs in alleged violation of the Geneva Convention.”

Faisal Bodi, the senior editor for Aljazeera.net, denounced his network’s poor reception in a March 28 Guardian editorial. “Of all the major global networks, Al Jazeera has been alone in proceeding from the premise that this war should be viewed as an illegal enterprise,” Bodi wrote. “It has broadcast the horror of the bombing campaign, the blown-out brains, the blood-spattered pavements, the screaming infants and the corpses.”

Recently, Al Jazeera has also broadcast reports debunking coalition claims of an uprising in Basra on March 25, its correspondent claiming that there was no sign of anti-Saddam rioting in the city. British Prime Minister Tony Blair later conceded reports of the event were “confused.”

Meanwhile, Iraq expelled an Al Jazeera reporter on April 2. The Iraqi government—the same one that supposedly uses Al Jazeera as a propaganda instrument—banished the network reporter for conducting interviews unsupervised by a government monitor.

A March 26 New York Times editorial defended the network, saying, “Al Jazeera is feisty and frequently controversial, but it does real journalism, and it is the only uncensored TV network in the Arab world.”

Or as an Al Jazeera correspondent told Reuters: “We want to show it as it is.”

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