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USA wants to close down Al-Jazeera

arab news | 04.10.2003 10:15 | Repression | World


‘US Threatened to Downgrade Qatari Ties Over Al-Jazeera’
John R. Bradley,

JEDDAH, 4 October 2003 — Al-Jazeera made the decision to pull two “anti-US” cartoons from its website last month under US pressure after an article appeared in a Kuwaiti newspaper quoting a US Gulf-based diplomat as saying that Congress had proposed to George W. Bush he should put “all possible pressure” on the Qatari government to close down the satellite station, Arab News has learned.

The two cartoons were pulled “without any hesitation” from both the Arabic and English language websites after a US government official complained about them, Arab News reported yesterday, making a mockery of Al-Jazeera’s reputation for fiercely safeguarding its journalistic independence against outside pressure.

The article, published in the Kuwaiti Arabic language daily Al-Siyasa, sent shockwaves through the news organization, even though Al-Jazeera could not verify its factual accuracy, according to inside sources who spoke to Arab News on condition of anonymity. The article was even translated into English and forwarded by e-mail to all staff members at the new English language Al-Jazeera website.

Obtained exclusively by Arab News from a former senior member of the Al-Jazeera news team, the e-mail reported that Al-Siyasa quoted a Gulf-based US diplomat as saying that a series of meetings were held in late August at the headquarters of the Security Intelligence Committee of the House of Representatives.

The subject of the meetings, according to the Al-Jazeera journalist who sent the e-mail, was “US-Qatari relations in light of the role Al-Jazeera has played in inciting anti-US sentiment”.

If Al-Jazeera failed to reconsider its news content, the e-mail reported the committee as having concluded, the US would in turn have to reconsider its relations with Qatar.

Suggestions made, the Al-Jazeera journalist wrote, included transferring its largest military Gulf base to another Gulf state, minimizing its civilian presence, canceling the 50-year-old defense treaty between the US and Qatar, and withdrawing most other US support for the tiny Gulf state.

Analysts say that the Qatari government will have no choice but to make it tone down its content, as it will otherwise find itself caught between a rock and a hard place: Forging ever-closer ties to the US while bankrolling a news organization the US sees as backing its enemies in the so-called “war on terror”.

Committee members, according to the e-mail, accused Al-Jazeera of being against both US foreign and domestic political interests and its armed forces, particularly those in Iraq and Afghanistan; of becoming a platform for Al-Qaeda and the ousted Iraqi regime; and of promoting other fundamentalist and terrorist Islamic groups.

The diplomat was quoted as saying that the meetings — which he said included key members of the House of Representatives, the Senate and the Pentagon, the State Department, the CIA and the FBI — reached a unanimous proposal on the second anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks: To advise Bush to warn the Qatari government to close Al-Jazeera or, as a first step, replace its current journalists with others who are “moderate and neutral”.

It was immediately after the article appeared that the two “offensive” cartoons were pulled from the Arabic and English websites, suggesting that US threats were already starting to get the desired results.

Since then, according to another Al-Jazeera source, there has been unprecedented tension in the Al-Jazeera newsroom that is home to both the Arabic and English language websites’ staff as a result of senior editors being increasingly reluctant to give the go-ahead to controversial story ideas.

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Display the following 2 comments

  1. Checkout the Gadaffi cartoon — ram
  2. It's a PFI thang presumably. — Afinkawan