DOHA, Qatar Its foreign bureaus were bombed by U.S. warplanes, it is
banned from reporting from four Middle East countries and al-Jazeera
is only growing in popularity.
An interesting, and sometimes tragic path has led to the success of al-Jazeera
since its launch in November 1996. Its difficulties have also been its success;
the ban from reporting in Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia and al-geria has done nothing
to reduce a fierce loyalty from more than 40 million viewers.
The al-Jazeera bureau in Afghanistan was bombed by US warplanes in 2001. During
the invasion of Iraq, US tanks shelled al-Jazeera journalists in a Basra hotel.
Shortly after, its office in Baghdad was hit by a missile from a US warplane;
correspondent Tareq Ayoub was killed.
al-Jazeera reporters have been detained by US forces and placed in prisons
in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. It has weathered verbal attacks from US
defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld and from government officials in many countries
in the Middle East..
"I can definitively say that what al-Jazeera is doing is vicious, inaccurate
and inexcusable," Rumsfeld told reporters Apr. 15, 2004 after al-Jazeera
showed the bodies of women and children killed by US bombs in Fallujah.
US President George W. Bush attempted to convince British Prime Minister Tony
Blair to agree to bomb the headquarters of al-Jazeera in Doha in Qatar in November
that year, according to a report in Britain's Daily Mirror citing "top
secret" minutes of the meeting where this was discussed.
At an al-Jazeera forum on the media in Doha this week, IPS asked Samir Khader,
program editor for al-Jazeera, if the report of a plan to attack their headquarters
had affected their work.
"Do you think that because of such a memo we have to stop working,"
he said. "Of course we can't. We have to do our job. If the memo was true
and George Bush wanted to bomb Jazeera, what can we do? They can do that, and
the whole world will know."
Khader, who produced a well-known documentary on the network called Control
Room added, "It's not that because a journalist is threatened he will
not do his job."
Asked if al-Jazeera received an explanation on the report, Khader said, "No.
The official spokesman of the British government said there was nothing in that
memo that referred to al-Jazeera, and Tony Blair also said that in the House
of Commons. But in answering other inquiries from British nationals, the same
spokesman recognized that this memo exists, and there is a reference to al-Jazeera
So there is a contradiction in their own statements."
Khader said al-Jazeera is still waiting for a response from both governments.
Managing director Wadah Khanfar told IPS there is a driving force within the
media outlet that propels it through challenging times.
"Sometimes the only thing that keeps us forward is the support of our
audience," he said. "But also because we have really great people
working here as well as professionally trained fixers, stringers and drivers."
Khanfar said the channel is building on its reputation of succeeding in the
face of hostility.
"There is a culture now we've created with our style of reporting that
oppressive regimes have more trouble now stopping al-Jazeera," Khanfar
said. "If you, as a journalist, would like to be loyal to your profession,
you know it is going to be difficult to get the story sometimes, but you have
to do it anyway if it's at all possible."
This attitude prompted its reporters in Fallujah to obtain footage of civilians
killed by US soldiers. This reporter also witnessed the attacks on civilians
and ambulances in Fallujah at the time.
Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the senior US military spokesperson in Iraq during the April
2004 siege of Fallujah, had said then, "The stations that are showing Americans
intentionally killing women and children are not legitimate news sources."
A young female journalist who writes for al-Jazeera's English website was reluctant
to give her name, but when asked if she faced pressure from the US military
or repressive governments in the region, said, "Not directly, but since
we know we're being so highly scrutinized, I feel a greater responsibility to
do my job well."
Did other al-Jazeera journalists feel the same way? "Doesn't every journalist
feel that these days?" she said.
(Inter Press Service)