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[eccr] NYT ed: Why Al Jazeera Matters

Sun Mar 30 10:13:08 GMT 2003

Title: NYT ed: Why Al Jazeera Matters


March 30, 2003

Why Al Jazeera Matters

n August 1990, when Iraq invaded Kuwait, precipitating the first Persian Gulf war, state-run media in the Arab world suppressed the news for three days. Today, word of such an attack would be out within minutes because of a television station called Al Jazeera. Financed by the iconoclastic emir of Qatar, the gulf state where our war operations are based, Al Jazeera is the only independent broadcasting voice in the Arab world, watched by 35 million people. That is why the decision by the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq to bar the station's reporters is so repugnant.

The exchanges' complaint against Al Jazeera is that it is not "responsible." This is a cryptic allegation but it seems linked to the television station's decision last Sunday to show images of dead American and British soldiers as well as P.O.W.'s in Iraq. But Al Jazeera says that after the Pentagon asked it to remove the pictures until families had been notified it did so for eight hours, while the television stations of numerous countries continued to show them.

In truth, it seems that New York's exchanges have a broader complaint, heard in various forms elsewhere ‹ that Al Jazeera is insufficiently supportive of America and its war in Iraq. As the only uncensored Arabic television in the world, Al Jazeera does indeed slant its debates and discussions in a way that can be hostile to the West. It is not Fox News. But if our hope for the Arab world is, as the Bush administration never ceases to remind us, for it to enjoy a free, democratic life, Al Jazeera is the kind of television station we should encourage.

It is the only Arabic television station that regularly interviews Israeli officials. It is also an important forum for American officials. Last week alone, it interviewed three senior members of the American government, including Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Al Jazeera has also been a vital source of information about Al Qaeda. Its reporters have had access to Qaeda leaders, and tapes of Osama bin Laden have found their way to the station's offices. This has been a useful window on a world that for too long has been utterly alien to us.

The ban on Al Jazeera by the princes of the free market puts them in impressive company. Libya and Tunisia have both complained that Al Jazeera gives too much airtime to opposition leaders. Jordan has thrown it out. Kuwait refused visas to its correspondents who were to be placed with American forces based there.

If a free, uncensored press ever arrives in the Arab world, many Americans will be shocked by what it says. Then, the energetic if somewhat tendentious broadcasts of Al Jazeera will seem, in comparison, like the nuanced objectivity of the BBC. For right now, Al Jazeera deserves all the help and support it can get.

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