The director of the Qatar-based news network defends itself against charges — from one of the wikileaks diplomatic cables — that it’s merely a puppet of the Qatar government. He also answers the larger allegation that Al-Jazeera is decidedly biased against the West and practices shabby journalism. Here are some good parts:
The region where we are situated is host to some of the most repressive governments in the world, where freedom of expression is silenced, journalists languish in prisons and independent civil institutions are rare. Allegations that we lack independence are part of our daily routine – they no longer surprise us.
But we take measures to protect our editorial integrity in spite of intimidation from governments and regimes – our journalists have been banned, imprisoned, tortured and killed. Al Jazeera’s bureaus have routinely been closed, many times by Arab regimes with which Qatar has good relationships. Although banned in these countries, we continue to cover their stories with depth and balance. To institutionalise our independence we have ensured diversity among our staff, and have more than 50 nationalities represented – with no majority of any one nationality.
Questions about Al Jazeera’s independence and its relationship with Qatar, our primary source of funding, are asked in almost any interview I give. Because the region has a history of state-controlled media it is assumed our host country must impact upon our editorial policy. But the Qatari government has kept its distance – it is similar to the kind of model one sees in other publicly funded arm’s length broadcasters such as the BBC. Qatar’s prime minister openly criticises Al Jazeera, and has talked about the “headaches” caused by our independence. But we subject state officials to the same hard questions and journalistic standards we have for everyone else. Al Jazeera has strong editorial policies to protect its independence from the influence of power – one only has to look at the screen to witness this.
Obviously, I haven’t watched the Arabic version, but I have payed attention to the English-language Al-Jazeera television and Web reports. What I’ve seen is professional reporting from a slightly different perspective. Nothing stands out as overtly biased or shoddy. And the coverage can be quite critical of the region’s ruling powers — not just the West.
The bureau closures Al-Jazeera has suffered (most recently in Kuwait) should show the world that they’re doing something right.