No To US-demanded Crackdown on Free Media
October 4, 2001
There can be no more shocking and disgusting demonstration of US double
standards than the demand delivered by US Secretary of State Colin Powell
that Qatar crack down on the independent satellite TV network Al-Jazira.
According to the BBC, Powell asked Qatar to reign in the influential and
editorially independent television station, which gives airtime to
anti-American opinions among many others. The emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad
Khalifa al-Thani, confirmed after a meeting with Powell in Washington that
he had been asked to exert influence on the Qatari-based channel, which
can be received almost worldwide. (see story below)
Al-Jazira is one of the few sources of reliable and comprehensive news
reporting and debate about the Arab and wider worlds.
As someone who watches Al-Jazira daily, I can say that there is nothing on
this network that matches the shameless nationalism, open hostility to
Arabs and Muslims and occasionally outright incitement that often passes
for "news" and "analysis" in the United States media, both electronic and
print not to mention the "entertainment industry."
How would the United States government react if Arab countries demanded it
crack down on the semi-official daily The Washington Post which in August
published a series of articles demanding that Israel launch a war of
annihilation against the Palestinians? Or would the US government be
prepared to crack down on CNN which for hours after the September 11
atrocity repeatedly played a clip of a small handful of celebrating
Palestinians inviting viewers to take that as indication that Palestinians
were either responsible or universally pleased with the attack? Or how
about the major US TV networks which rely for most of their analysis on
former government and military officials who are often hostile to
Palestinians, Iraqis and others?
I hope the United States government would never crack down on any media,
and that no government will heed hypocritical demands to do the same. Here
in the US, where what passes for television news is largely nothing more
than advertisements, diet tips, mawkish sentiment and attempts to give
every story a selfish personal or financial angle for every viewer,
independent news beamed in from the outside world has never been more
vital. Here, where no person is permitted to speak on any issue for more
than eight seconds at a time, the kind of free, in-depth debate provided
by Al-Jazira should serve as an example and a reminder to the American
media as to what their job is supposed to be. Is it this very freedom that
the United States government hates and wants to destroy even as its
accuses others of wanting to destroy the freedoms we enjoy here in
The greatest service Al-Jazira could do is to continue its mission
undaunted by these unconscionable demands, and to start broadcasting in
English so that Americans too can begin to comprehend at long last some of
the issues and problems their government has mired them in.
The United States is justified in seeking the cooperation of every country
to track down the perpetrators of the September 11 atrocities and bring
them to justice. But stifling the freedoms of others in the name of
protecting your own is a formula that the US has tried before. It didn't
work then and it will not work now.
(Note: I have sent a letter based on the above commentary to Powell at
The writer is an analyst based in the United States.