Arab television channel Al-Jazeera rejects U.S. criticism of its coverage
By WARD PINCUS
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) -- The Arab world's all-news television channel said Saturday it was puzzled by U.S. criticism of its coverage of events following the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
The United States raised concerns about Al-Jazeera's coverage during a meeting Wednesday in Washington between U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and Qatari Emir Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani.
"It is true that we heard from this (Bush) administration, as well as previous American administrations in the past, about this issue," Hamad said at a joint news conference with Powell following the meeting.
The Qatar-based network, known for its aggressive reporting on Arab events, frequently has exclusive footage of Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect in the attacks, who lives in Afghanistan.
"Because this comes from the United States, which considers itself the strongest advocate of freedom of expression, it comes as very strange and unacceptable," news editor Ahmed Sheikh told The Associated Press on Saturday in a telephone interview from the Qatari capital of Doha.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher declined to comment on the dispute this past week.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said that the U.S. embassy in Doha filed a formal diplomatic complaint about Al-Jazeera with Qatari authorities on Tuesday. The embassy directed questions about the report to the State Department.
A State Department spokeswoman said she had no immediate information about the reported complaint.
Sheikh said Al-Jazeera has received no communication either from the U.S. Embassy in Qatar or the Qatari government regarding the complaint and said the station would not change its policies.
"We are balanced and objective and never interfere in the news. We give all opposing views," he said.
Bin Laden "is a party to the conflict and his opinions must be heard," Sheikh said.
Other Arab states sometimes complain about Al-Jazeera's critical reporting and its presentation of sensitive issues in the Middle East, such as policies toward Israel and human rights.
But Hamad emphasized that Qatar, which has seen a number of political and legal reforms since 1995, was embarking on "a parliamentary life with a democracy, which dictates that freedom of the press should be granted, and that press should enjoy credibility."
The Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the U.S. interference.
"Arab government attempts to influence Al-Jazeera have garnered widespread attention over the years. We are disheartened to see U.S. officials adopting similar tactics," the group said in a written statement.
It cited its own unnamed sources as saying that U.S. officials were particularly disturbed by Al-Jazeera's frequent airings of its exclusive December 1998 interview with bin Laden.