Monday, December 6, 2010

WikiLeaks cables claim al-Jazeera changed coverage to suit Qatari foreign policy

US embassy memos contradict Arabic satellite channel's insistence that it is editorially independent despite being heavily subsidised by Gulf state


The Guardian

"Qatar is using the Arabic news channel al-Jazeera as a bargaining chip in foreign policy negotiations by adapting its coverage to suit other foreign leaders and offering to cease critical transmissions in exchange for major concessions, US embassy cables released by WikiLeaks claim. The memos flatly contradict al-Jazeera's insistence that it is editorially independent despite being heavily subsidised by the Gulf state.

They will also be intensely embarrassing to Qatar, which last week controversially won the right to host the 2022 World Cup after presenting itself as the most open and modern Middle Eastern state.

In the past, the emir of Qatar has publicly refused US requests to use his influence to temper al-Jazeera's reporting.

But a cable written in November 2009 predicted that the station could be used "as a bargaining tool to repair relationships with other countries, particularly those soured by al-Jazeera's broadcasts, including the United States" over the next three years.....

In February, the US embassy reported to Washington how "relations [between Qatar and Saudi Arabia] are generally improving after Qatar toned down criticism of the Saudi royal family on al-Jazeera". In July 2009, the US embassy said the channel "has proved itself a useful tool for the station's political masters".

In one dispatch, the US ambassador, Joseph LeBaron, reported that the Qatari prime minister, Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, had joked in an interview that al-Jazeera had caused the Gulf state such headaches that it might be better to sell it. But the ambassador remarked: "Such statements must not be taken at face value." He went on: "Al-Jazeera's ability to influence public opinion throughout the region is a substantial source of leverage for Qatar, one which it is unlikely to relinquish. Moreover, the network can also be used as a chip to improve relations. For example, al-Jazeera's more favourable coverage of Saudi Arabia's royal family has facilitated Qatari-Saudi reconciliation over the past year.".....

The US has benefitted, too. "Anecdotal evidence suggests, and former al-Jazeera board members have affirmed, that the United States has been portrayed more positively since the advent of the Obama administration," a cable in November 2009 said. "We expect that trend to continue and to further develop as US-Qatari relations improve."....."

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