April 18, 2005

Al-Jazeera Bureau Office in Iran Closed

Al-Jazeera, the 24-hour Arabic language news network was virtually unknown in the West prior to the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom (American operations against Al-Qa'idah and the Talaban in Afghanistan) – it has become a household world to millions of people watching coverage of events in the Middle East. To some Americans, the name means anti-American slanted news coverage beamed to an under-informed Arabic-speaking audience. To that Arabic-speaking audience, it has emerged as their principal source of news with over 35 million viewers. While there are other Arabic-language satellite channels, none has the reach - or clout - of Al-Jazeera.

On April 18, Tehran ordered that the network cease operations in Iran, blaming the channel for inciting anti-government violence in the Arabic-speaking Iranian province of Khuzestan in which several people were killed.


Al-Jazeera is based in Doha, Qatar, and is owned by the Emir of Qatar. The word al-jazeera, or more properly al-jazirah, means “the island,” but is also translated in this context as “the peninsula.” For years the only available continuous television news service available in the region was CNN, an English language service. For Arabic speakers, there was no comparable option. Although there are Arabic-language news services available by satellite in the region, none offer 24-hour continuous coverage.

The U.S. government is concerned that Al-Jazeera’s reporting may be inaccurately reflecting American foreign policy. Washington is not pleased with what appears to be Al-Jazeera’s willingness to provide Al-Qa'idah's Usamah Bin Ladin, his agent in Iraq Abu Musa'ib Az-Zarqawi or Iraqi insurgent groups with a propaganda organ. Despite misgiving over AL-Jazeera's motives, the Pentagon allowed the network to particpate in the embedded reported program during the war in Iraq.

Senior U.S. government officials have appeared on the station to attempt to better represent the American position. When then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice was interviewed on Al-Jazeera, the station repeatedly aired statements taken out of context as “teasers” advertising the interview. For example, Dr. Rice discussed a wide range of topics, including American demands that Palestinians halt violence against Israel, concerns about Saddam Husayn, the background for American military actions in Afghanistan and the war on terrorism. Only the demands that Palestinians stop attacks on Israel and remarks about Saddam Husayn were aired in these teasers. No mention was made of her reiteration of the American administration’ support for the creation of a Palestinian state.

In Iraq, military commanders remark that when something bad happens, Al-Jazeera seems to be first on the scene. While not accusing the network of anything illegal, some believe the network may have been tipped off. More than one of its reporters has been detained or arrested. The network constantly reminds the world of Spain's arrest of its journalist Taysir Al-Luni for assisting Al-Qa'idah.

Al-Jazeera is a useful source for American news organizations - MSNBC monitors its broadcasts daily. It can also be a source for the Iraqi insurgents. Shortly after appearing on Al-Jazeera, the commander of the anti-insurgency operation in Mada'in was killed near his home.

If you can read Arabic, visit Al-Jazeera's web site. Do not confuse the English language version - they do not read the same. The Arabic is much more strident and anti-American in tone.