September 11 Attacks: Crimes Against Humanity

U.S. Presses for Censorship of Jazeera TV

October 15, 2001

The Bush Administration has pressured the government of the Persian Gulf state of Qatar to use its influence to modify the programming of al-Jazeera, the Arabic-language satellite television station headquartered in Doha. Al-Jazeera was launched in 1996, and enjoys tremendous popularity throughout the region for its news reporting and hard-hitting talk shows from an Arab perspective. The diversity of opinions aired on Jazeera stands in sharp contrast to the state-controlled and censored media that exists in many parts of the region.

In the weeks following the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington al-Jazeera has repeatedly broadcast its 1998 interview with Oussama bin Laden, hosted commentators critical of U.S. policy, and since September 19 has been the only station with correspondents reporting from the area of Afghanistan controlled by the Taliban. Since September 2000, it has also intensively covered the second Palestinian uprising against the Israeli occupation.

The station has also been periodically criticized by governments in the region -- including Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, and Morocco -- for giving air time to dissidents and discussing sensitive issues censored in national media. Al-Jazeera has long stated that its current affairs programming is designed to "offer a platform for divergent viewpoints and analyses."

Qatar's head of state of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifah al-Thani, told journalists in Washington on October 3 that the Bush administration, as well as the Clinton administration before it, had complained to the Qatari government about some of Jazeera's programming, which U.S. officials reportedly view as lacking balance and sometimes inaccurate. The emir noted that the station has also been criticized by "so many heads of other states," but that the government's plans for a parliamentary democracy "dictates that freedom of the press should be granted."

CNN also confirmed on October 3 the U.S. pressure on Qatar. Citing unnamed State Department officials, it reported that the Bush administration believes al-Jazeera is "unbalanced and encourages anti-American sentiment in the Middle East." It said that during the week of September 24 the U.S. ambassador to Qatar, Maureen Quinn, delivered a formal protest to the Qatari foreign minister about the station's broadcasts.

"We are getting hammered in the Arab world," one State Department official told CNN. "Many feel that al-Jazeera is trying to run the divide and fuel the flames of fundamentalism." Another senior official said that the October 3 meeting in Washington between Secretary of State Colin Powell and Qatar's emir was a "frank exchange," adding: "There should have been no mistake of where we are coming from."

The station's managing director, Muhamed Jasim al-Ali, defended its programming on October 4. "These accusations are not strange," he told the Reuters news agency. "We have been accused of being the voice of Iraq because of our coverage, and now as we are the only people with access in Afghanistan, we're accused of being pro-Afghani. We have correspondents in the United States and we have correspondents in Kabul and Kandahar. We give equal coverage to both sides and that is our role. We present both sides."

Al-Jazeera began operations with millions of dollars in funding from the Qatari government. It is not yet financially independent but is considered a private company, not a government station. Its staff reportedly includes some 350 editors, anchors and technicians, and about thirty foreign correspondents. Al-Jazeera broadcasts around the clock, with its news coverage complemented by programs on finance, culture, religion and sports. The station is received throughout the Middle East, including Israel, and in Europe and the Americas.