Biased journalism Al Jazeera style
Apr 24, 2012 15:31 Moscow Time
Biased journalism Al Jazeera style
The story of a former Al Jazeera journalist Ali Hashem says that while he was covering the revolutions in Syria and Libya, he discovered that the channel Al Jazeera, which is owned by the government of Qatar, was skewing the story of these revolutions in a way that perhaps will not be viewed as an objective journalism. We are fortunate to have an exclusive with Mr. Ali Hashem on the line with us now.
You have a very interesting story to tell. You had been on the frontlines of reporting of uprisings in both Libya and Syria just as these incidents were breaking. And you discovered that your channel, your former employer Al Jazeera, actually was presenting these stores of the revolutions in a way that was not objective in your opinion. Can you start by telling us what you observed about your time spent in Libya? Weíll start there.
It wasnít this blunt, because we as reporters were working in the fields so we had a chance to do the report of was what was going on. We were able to get the story as we wanted to show it. The problem wasnít really with us specific in Libya. The problem was actually in Syria. In Libya things were going on normally actually. We were just covering the clashes between the rebels and the Gaddafiís army. We were just giving the news how it is. I wasnít asked by Al Jazeera in any occasion to change anything about the reality going on or to say something else, to be frank. When we went to Syria things started to change. After I came back from Libya, it was April, I was sent to the borders between Lebanon and Syria. And there was able to spot fighters on the boarders and crossing the boarders. This precise incident was actually a big problem. We saw the fighters, we saw the clashes and we were able to spot them and take photo job. But then some of my seniors just told me to forget about the fighters that we saw and just ignore it. Like that it was a peaceful revolution, like there were no fighters, no militants. They didnít want to show it to the people.
So letís be clear for our audience following the timeline of events. When you were dispatched to Syria to cover initially the revolution when it began last year you were able to capture some video footage of Ė was this the Syrian government shooting across the Lebanese border? Do I understand that correctly?
Actually we were able to spot militants fighting the Syrian army just on the borders between Lebanon and Syria and also in the depth of one or two km in the Syrian territories. They were fighting the Syrian army from that area. We have the footage of complete battle between both parties, the Syrian army and the militants. I donít know if they were the Syrian, the Lebanese or the Palestinian. I canít say, I canít give analyses. I just can say that we saw people, they were fighting and the channel refused to give the footage.
Did the channel give any explanation as to why they refused to air this footage that you and your crew captured?
Iím sure this wasnít the stance of my colleagues, the professional journalists. Rather it was, you know, the decision of the government that owned the channel.
I have big confidence in my colleagues that they wouldnít take such a decision. This was the decision of the owners, of the financiers of the Qatari foreign ministry. They tried to show that what was happening in Syria was a crackdown against peaceful demonstrators. But things were kind of different. It was a war between militants and army.
So, Ali, just to be clear, itís you position that it was not so much the news directors of Al Jazeera that refused to air this footage, you believe, that this directive came from the Qatari government that owns Al Jazeera? Is that correct?
Yes, Iím sure. Itís not a decision that can be taken by any of the seniors. This is a very big decision. It takes the policy of the channel into a different way than the way it was trying to show. Al Jazeera always gave the opinion and the counter opinion. But this time it just gave the opinion and covered up the counter opinion.
However your accusations about Al Jazeeraís coverage of the Syrian revolution actually go a step further than just reporting the situation from one perspective and failing to cover the other. You actually say that Al Jazeera was responsible for smuggling communications devices, Internet communications devices and satellite Internet devices to the opposition in Syria. Can you elaborate on that, please?
Each channel has the right to do whatever it wants but they should do it with a certain agenda. Iím not claiming that they didnítí have an agenda. But they were trying to give satellite communication devices and phones, whatever, to the Syrian rebels and that was through the Lebanese border. As far as I know one of the first smuggling operations that took part was supposed to cross to Syria. Someone was paid 50 000 dollars to take the devices and take them from Lebanon to Syria, thatís what I know. And Iím sure that several other operations similar to this took place. According to the channel, they want people outside to hear the voice of the voiceless inside Syria. But as I know these devices were used by militants, they were for anti-government use. And not only by peaceful demonstrators.
As we all know the reporting of the incidents and the violence in the uprising that is happening in Syria has not been effectively reported because of the restrictions put on international journalists by the Syrian government. Weíve actually seen instances of journalists murdered or killed by shelling. Itís very difficult to get an objective perspective of whatís happening in Syria. However, do you think that Al Jazeera overstepped their journalistic authority or perhaps you served their ethics in some way by basically choosing a side whose story they decided was important enough and it needed to get out by some assistance?
As I said before that is not Al Jazeera, itís the owners. They are gambling with Al Jazeera. When I chose to work with Al Jazeera, things were different. We covered both parts of news, both sides. Unfortunately, the Qatari stance was reflected by Al Jazeeraís coverage of the crises. This seems to be pushing the channel to the journalistic suicide. Today Iím one of those who resigned, but there are many other as well. My former boss, our Al J former reporter in Moscow resigned, Al J reporter in Afghanistan, many people. There are also two or three presenters who are right know going to give their resignations. So we are talking about more than 12 or 13 main media icons who are resigning today
. Itís not an easy issue. You can say everyone is resigning because they are wrong and the channel is right but something is going on. Itís the choice of being an employee or being a journalist. If you want to be an employee, then you just take your salary and forget about whatís going on and cover just what the channel is asking you to. But if you have ethics, if you have your own moral, if you are feeling yourself as a journalist, you should do something when youíre asked to forget about being a journalist. You should say: I want to stay a journalist, not an employee.
Ali, thatís a very principled stance and I do believe anyone whoís working in media and journalism can certainly emphasize with your position. However, whether or not a media organization is owned by a state government or a corporate entity, which you disagree perhaps, but every channel, every news outlet be it in a newspaper, website or a TV network, everyone has their agenda. As journalists are we free to take our services to whoever values them the most? Were you surprised to see this from Al J.?
Thatís a difference between making a scenario and doing whatever the payee wants and being a journalist. Iíve seen it before. Actually everyone has its own agenda. I believe that. But thereís a difference between having an agenda and saying: I have an agenda and Iím doing this job this way and Iím ok with that and claiming: I donít have an agenda, Iím showing both points of view. Thereís one thing itís important to say today in Al J thereís a problem. The same problem may be in other places, with other channel. But the difference between Al J and other channels is that no one pushing journalists. You can do whatever you want as far as you are telling the truth. You can tell the truth on agenda. But when you are lying itís different. Itís not our job to lie. Our job is to say whatís really going on.
Ali, Iím very curious as of how your story was able to come out. There was an issue with some e-mails. Can you elaborate on this, please?
As a matter of fact, yes. Before the e-mails Ė all I said in these e-mails and what Iím saying right now Ė I used to say this to my bosses. I said this to all the seniors. I wasnít really shy about this. Once one of my colleagues, presenter on the Arabic channel, she sent me an e-mail regarding the Arabic crises. We went to discussion. After some time it seems that the so-called Syrian electronic army had access to Al Jís service, to out e-mails, hundreds of e-mails. They published what was in the discussion between me and my colleague and things started to show up. I didnít have problems, because I said this before. This is what happened with e-mails you asked about.
Ali, and what is going to be next for you? What has been the reaction to you telling you story? Has it been positive? Has it been negative?
Before saying this, give me a chance of saying something also regarding my resignation. Itís not only in Syria. Itís not only what happened in front of me. I saw what I was talking about and I resigned because of what I saw. Also because of what was going on in Arabic country, a very small country called Bahrain. This country being ignored by Arab media, the media that is financed by the Gulf countries. These countries donít want people to know about the crackdown against real peaceful demonstrators. They really were armless. No one wanted to show these people are suffering. This is also one of the main themes. Itís like covering an eye and opening an eye. Itís the same. People are dying in Syria, Libya, Indonesia, Egypt and other countries. Media puts our eyes on the back of our heads to show things that are not happening actually, covering all the truth about things thatís going on in Bahrain, giving excuses like: these people are just on the borders or whatever. If you want to cover any story, all stories are the same
Biased journalism Al Jazeera style: Voice of Russia