Al-Jazeera Feels Heat for Perceived War Bias

Mar 31, 2003  •  Post A Comment

An Al-Jazeera cameraman was reported missing 30 kilometers north of Basra, Iraq, late last week, near the site of continuing hostilities between Iraqis and U.S.-led coalition forces, according to Stephanie Thomas, manager of the Qatar-based satellite network’s Washington bureau.
This was the latest bad news for the increasingly controversial network, which has been making headlines as well as reporting them since coming under attack for showing graphic footage of U.S. casualties and prisoners of war in Iraq on March 23.
Ms. Thomas said the Iraqi cameraman, Aqeel Abdul Rida, and a producer and driver for the network were at the site to watch British tanks fire at what she described as a food depot. When their vehicle came under fire, the driver and the producer fled, according to Ms. Thomas. But the vehicle was destroyed and Mr. Rida was missing. “I’m assuming they were either filming it or were just in the area,” Ms. Thomas said.
Ms. Thomas said it was unclear what had become of the producer and driver. The incident was reported on Al-Jazeera. A spokesman for the Pentagon and the U.S. Central Command in Qatar said they had no information on the issue at deadline late last week.
As an independent and some would say opposition voice to the U.S. effort in Iraq, Al-Jazeera has come under a different kind of attack in the past week. Al-Jazeera was strongly criticized by leaders of the U.S.-led coalition forces, including Secretary of State Colin Powell, who accused the network of magnifying Iraqi successes. “They tend to portray our efforts in a negative light,” Mr. Powell said in an interview on National Public Radio.
Attacks Denounced
Angry New York Stock Exchange officials yanked the Arabic-language network’s credentials and NASDAQ promptly denied it permission to broadcast live from that stock exchange.
The network’s new English-language Web site, english.aljazeera.net, came under a hack attack shortly after its launch last Monday. At one point, hackers reportedly replaced the Web site’s home page with an image of a U.S. flag and the message, “Let Freedom Ring.”
In a series of statements, Al-Jazeera spokesmen denounced the hack attacks and NYSE actions as infringements on press freedoms. “We urge the NYSE to reconsider its decision in the interests of upholding the values of the United States of America,” said the network in one statement.
Ray Pellecchia, a NYSE spokesman, said the stock exchange was reconsidering Al-Jazeera’s expulsion. “There have been talks and we will continue to talk,” Mr. Pellecchia said.
In its defense, the network also said it is honoring a request by the Pentagon to stop airing the footage temporarily until families of U.S. victims and prisoners of war can be notified.
“Al-Jazeera has broadcast footage of both Iraqi and U.S. casualties,” the network said. “We also sympathize deeply with the families of all victims of war.”
Despite the fuss, Al-Jazeera’s Ms. Thomas said the network is still covering the White House, Pentagon and other Washington venues, without any new official impediments.
“Everything is fine in Washington,” she said.