Why is America scared of Al-Jazeera?
SAKINA YUSUF KHAN (TIMES NEWS NETWORK)
NEW DELHI: Al-Jazeera uncensored is yours for the asking. Just ask your cable operator. Arab diplomats in Vasant Vihar did that and now have 24-hour access to the Arab world's 'CNN'.
"Western channels are so one-sided, we need Al-Jazeera to give us the complete picture," says a diplomat.
Does it give the complete picture? And is its war coverage really potentially dangerous as the US would have us believe?
The Sunday Times of India spent two hours watching the Arabic language news channel live at the Qatar embassy to find out what is it the US does not want the world to see.
Friday, 3 pm: The news headlines are about Israeli-Palestinian forces exchanging fire in Ramallah, anthrax cases in USA, the latest from George W Bush and the latest from Taliban's ambassador in Pakistan. Battleground footage? Two trucks carrying civilians hit in American air strikes in Kabul, many die. The visual shows houses reduced to rubble, broken bits of a lorry and a smashed PCO.
3.30 pm: Between the Lines is a round-up of all that's been written about Al-Jazeera in international newspapers. Muntaba Al Ramahi, the young anchor could easily be mistaken for a BBC newscaster - short hair, western clothes, sophisticated and professional. Not surprising, since many of Al-Jazeera's correspondents were recruited from BBC Arabic. The visuals include critical as well as flattering clippings from the New York Times, The Independent, Sunday Times, Financial Times, and Washington Post. "Al-Jazeera is a lot keener to tell the truth than CNN," stated a commentator in The Independent.
In between, there are promos of US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's interview to Al-Jazeera's Washington correspondent, to be telecast later that day. Shots of the other'scoop' - Tony Blair's interview aired two days ago - are also shown time and again.
4 pm: The Ist war of the 21st century features a debate. The anchor grills the president of a charitable institute in Kuwait and Hani Albannah of the Islamic Salvage Institute in London, on their support for organisations like al-Qaeda. The two argue that theirs is merely humanitarian support, not to be equated with support for terrorism.
It was two hours of slickly presented news, with digital clarity. No gory images, no inflammatory speeches, no exhortations from Osama bin Laden. What you got instead was the inside story, from a correspondent in Kabul and a couple of others in other parts of Afghanistan. Why then are American viewers getting to see 'edited' clippings of Al-Jazeera? "Because it exposes America's hypocrisy and double standards and carries views that are convincing," says an Arab based here. Mahmoud Saleim, Press incharge of the Qatar Embassy, says: "It depicts reality. It is ironical that America, the champion of democracy and free speech, should black out the only private and therefore free channel of the Arab world. The rest are all government-controlled."
To judge for yourself, call up your cablewallah. But make sure you have someone to translate it for you.