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Doha fairytales (1001 nights) Part 2

January 6, 2013

The first fairytale from Doha was a satyrical comment about the UN climate-change conference 2012, which as expected ended without any progress.

How could it have been different when the conference took place in the country with the world’s highest per capita carbon emissions, the highest average income, and a lifestyle that is nothing less than an ecstatic celebration of consumerism, putting even the most affluent US Americans to shame.

The Qataris enthusiastic embrace of Western consumerism has lead to serious problems, making Qatar not only the richest, but also the most obese nation on earth. Half of the adults and a third of the children in Qatar are overweight, 17 percent of the native population suffers from diabetes. Related illnesses and complications like hypertension, blindness, partial paralysis, and heart disease are on the rise and in addition to that there are also high rates of birth defects and genetic disorders.

The weight problems have not dented the ambitions to gain political weight and in recent years Qatar has emerged as an important sponsor of radical Islamism. It is the main backer of the Muslim Brotherhood which became the biggest player (and winner) in the so called “Arab Spring.” Qatar is also an important member of the NATO/GCC coalition that destroyed Libya and now tries to destroy Syria.

I wrote about Qatar in several other blog posts and refer for details to these posts:
Doha fairytales (from 1001 nights)
News from Doha

The post that you are reading now is about Al Jazeera, a prominent TV broadcaster that is owned and controlled by Qatar’s Al Thani family. The propaganda war in the Middle East is in its zenith and the deceptive rhetoric, the boldness and inventiveness of the fabrications, lies, deliberate misconstructions and distortions is amazing, extraordinary, fascinating, breathtaking, gut wrenching.

The tale of Middle East politics is admittedly complicated but it can nevertheless be subsumed in a few sentences:

The Western neocolonial powers wanted to get rid of the secular Arab regimes because their leaders are not as easily to bribe as Arab monarchs. Iraq, Libya, Tunisia is done, Syria is next. Egypt is a different story: The USA were quite comfortable with Mubarak, but he was toppled by a public revolt so the USA had to install Mohamed Morsi, who maybe suits them even better.

Iran is also different, it is an Islamic theocracy but cooperates with Syria and supports the Palestinians and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Iran has the third largest oil reserves in the world. It is also blocking the progress of Sunni Islamic fundamentalism into the Caucasus and Central Asia, which would bring Russia into big trouble.

The West used and uses radical Islamists as proxies to destroy the secular regimes, a method which has the welcome side effect that the ranks of jihadist fighters are significantly thinned out, thereby reducing their ability to threaten Western interests (the Syrian army has killed more Islamic terrorists since March 2011 than President Obamas drone assassinations would have eliminated in 20 years)

Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and since 2011 also Turkey are the intermediaries between the West and the Islamists.

All Gulf monarchies have sizable Shia minorities and want to curb Shia influence in the Arab world (Iran, Iraq, Syria’s Alawites).

Qatar has teamed up with the West to extinguish Arab socialism (Ba’ath party), which is an existential threat to the Arab monarchies. It uses the Muslim Brotherhood to extent its influence in the Middle East and to cannibalize the economies of the countries where regime change plans succeeded. QNB (Qatar National Bank) for instance bought half of Libya’s Bank of Commerce and Development, it bought the Egypt unit of Societe Generale SA, it also opened several new branches in both countries.

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Qatar’s Al Thani family uses Al Jazeera to further their agenda. If the media company can make a profit, thats fine, but financial success is not the main purpose of Al Jazeera. The broadcaster was first comparatively independent and only held on a long leash so that it could build up a reputation among a young and progressive audience both in the Middle East and in the West.

Right after the tumultuous events in Tunisia and Egypt the journalistic freedom was severely curtailed, because the involvement of Qatar in the Arab Spring had to be accompanied by an increasingly overt propaganda of Al Jazeera in covering these events.

Al Jazeera boss Wadah Khanfar was replaced by Sheikh Ahmed bin Jassim Al Thani, a member of Qatar’s royal family. Several journalists and bureau chiefs resigned in disgust and the broadcaster’s erstwhile reputation as an independent, critical news media outlet rapidly dissipated when the newscasts belittled the popular uprising against the Khalifa regime in neighboring Bahrain, while at the same time giving saturated coverage to the Western-fomented insurgency in Syria.

The Western and Qatari/Saudi-backed covert campaign of subversion in Syria was distorted to appear as a noble struggle for democracy against the government of Bashar Al Assad. On more than one occasion, Al Jazeera was caught red-handed peddling disinformation about the Damascus government with unfounded allegations of human rights abuses, while covering up rampant atrocities committed by the  FSA (Free Syrian Army).

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Former Vice President Al Gore’s Current TV was never popular with US viewers, but when Gore founded the channel in 2005, he managed through a combination of personal lobbying and arm-twisting to get the channel piped into millions of households via cable and satellite providers.

On January 2 it was announced that Al Gore has sold Current TV to Al Jazeera for 500 million US$ (which means some 100 million US$ for him personally) paving the way for Al Jazeera broadcasts into at least 40 million US homes.

Several media analysts said that Al Jazeera overpaid for Current TV and the research firm PrivCo wrote in a note to clients: “The deep-pocketed Qatari royal family handily outbid any other bidder’s rational bid.”

Mr. Gore has a lot of other projects running and is quite busy, but he took a limited role in running Current, handpicking some liberal hosts for the channel, including Keith Olbermann and Jennifer Granholm in 2011 and Mr. Olbermann’s replacement, Eliot Spitzer, in 2012.

None of the hosts could attract an audience large enough to satisfy distributors, particularly Time Warner Cable, which was warning for over a year that it might drop Current from its lineup. Predictably Time Warner pulled Current just hours after the announcement of the acquisition.

Is this a chance to restore Al Jazeera’s reputation and present it again as an alternative to traditional media companies?

The New York Times wrote:

With a handful of exceptions (including New York City and Washington), American cable and satellite distributors have mostly refused to carry Al Jazeera since its inception in 2006. While the television sets of White House officials and lawmakers were tuned to the channel during the Arab Spring in 2011, ordinary Americans who wanted to watch had to find a live stream on the Internet.

The objections to Al Jazeera are only to a certain part rooted in islamophobia. The established media companies don’t need another competitor, the market is saturated and the audience is shrinking. According to a Nielsen report the number of US households with access to TV (cable, satellite, or antenna)  was shrinking for two years and has dropped to 114.1 million. New ideas, new successful TV shows are rare, the economic decline goes hand in hand with a social and cultural decline.

Al Jazeera will have a chance again to build a reputation as an alternative media outlet. It will cater to a liberal audience by presenting dissident views about issues that are not connected to the Middle East and  do not imperil Qatari interests or criticize Western strategies.

It will tell fairytales about brave and honest Syrian rebels and Libyans breathing the air of freedom, about responsible Kurdish leaders in Iraq and wise, open-minded, progressive Emirs in the Gulf states.

US liberals will love it.

aljazeera crumbling

On December 11 the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung published an article by Akhtham Suliman, Al-Jazeera’s longtime Germany correspondent, in which he details what led to his resignation from the company. It was translated by http://callmecynical.com/

A farewell to Al Jazeera: Forget what you have seen!

The news station Al Jazeera was committed to the truth. Now the truth is being twisted. It is about politics, not about journalism. For reporters this means: It’s time to go.

Aleppo, December 2012: An Al Jazeera correspondent had images relating to Syria that didn’t suit the station’s headquarters and which were not broadcast. This is no isolated incident.

“What do you regard as a terrorist attack and what as an act of legitimate resistance?” Nabil Khoury, the Lebanese-born spokesman for the US State Department in Iraq, asked me one autumn day in Baghdad. His gaze was reproachful. At the time, Al Jazeera stood accused of supporting the violence in Iraq under occupation, in the eyes of American politicians and the media. “The matter is simple, Mr. Khoury,” I replied. “Actions that target US military installations are resistance. Killing Iraqi civilians is terrorism.”

“Name an example!” he demanded. “Well yesterday, rockets were fired at the Al-Rashid Hotel, which houses the US joint chief of staffs. That is resistance.” —  “Aktham! I was at the hotel. The explosions were so close that I was thrown out of my bed. Some friends and colleagues of mine were injured.”

With all due sympathy for Mr Khoury, I could not change the definition. Resistance to occupation is an internationally recognized right, irrespective of sympathies. It was the time of — at least relative — clarity and self-confidence at Al Jazeera. One felt committed to the truth and principles of independent journalism, no matter what the cost. Criticism of the channel from the outside and especially in front of rolling cameras was seen as confirmation, as welcome promotional material that was spliced together and repeatedly rebroadcast on our station.

The declining station

Arab viewers will certainly recall the juxtaposition of US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the Iraqi Information Minister Mohammad Said Al-Sahhaaf in one of these episodes. Both delivered the message that Al-Jazeera was not telling the truth. Al Jazeera at the time acted according to the motto: If both parties to the conflict are saying so, then it is confirmation of the accuracy of our reporting. For extended periods, politicians, parties and governments were furious with Al Jazeera; spectators and staff, by contrast, were happy. The decline from 2004 to 2011 was sneaky, subtle and very slow, but with a catastrophic end.

“Ali! It’s me, your colleague from Berlin. Have you seen the alleged e-mail correspondence between you and Rola circulating on the Internet?” I asked Ali Hashem, the Al-Jazeera correspondent in Lebanon, on the phone earlier this year. I had just stumbled upon the alleged email communications between Al Jazeera staff published by the so-called “Syrian Electronic Army,” a Syrian pro-government hacker group. In one of the emails, the correspondent Ali Hashem had told Syrian TV presenter Rola Ibrahim, who was working at the network’s headquarters in Qatar, that he had seen and filmed armed Syrian revolutionaries on the border with Lebanon in 2011.

The channel didn’t broadcast the images because they showed an armed deployment, which did not fit the desired narrative of a peaceful uprising. “My bosses told me: forget what you have seen!” Hashem wrote to Rola, as published. She is said to have replied that she was faring no better. She had been “massively humiliated, just because I embarrassed Zuhair Salem, the spokesman for the opposition Muslim Brotherhood in Syria, with my questions during a news broadcast. They threatened to exclude me from interviews relating to Syria and to restrict me to presenting the late night news, under the pretext that I was jeopardizing the station’s balance.”

Mistakes become the routine

“Desirable” and less desirable images? Penalties for interviews that are “too critical”? At Al Jazeera? Here it must be said that in the online propaganda war between supporters and opponents of the Syrian regime, anything is possible, including lies and deception, as the months since the outbreak of the uprising in mid-March 2011 have shown. Regime supporters wanted to show that the rebellion is solely waged by “armed gangs.” Regime opponents wanted to show that the Syrian army is the only party committing acts of violence. 

That’s why I asked Ali Hashem whether the story was true. His answer was devastating: “Yes, it’s true. Those are really my emails with Rola. I do not know what to do now.”

Several days later, he knew the answer. Ali Hashem left.

Leaving is the only option that remains when these mistakes, which are altogether common in the fast-paced news industry, become the routine and are no longer recognized, treated or penalized as mistakes.

“There must be consequences. What do we do if the supervisor who told Ali that he should forget what he had seen, tells us one day: Forget that a hand has five fingers! Does a hand have more or fewer fingers based on the whims and needs of our superiors?” I remarked on Al Jazeera’s Talkback, an internal platform for employees. 

No reaction. Internal discussions were no longer fashionable at Al Jazeera.

This process did not remain an isolated case. On the contrary: it became a lesson. It quickly became clear to employees: this is about politics, not about journalism. More precisely: about Qatari foreign policy, which had subtly started to employ Al Jazeera as a tool to praise friends and attack enemies.

A hostage becomes a turncoat

It was not the first incident. When Al Jazeera’s Japan correspondent, Fadi Salameh, came to Doha at the end of 2011 to help out for a month at the channel’s headquarters, colleagues asked him how he — as a Syrian — assessed or felt about their Syria coverage. He responded evasively with something like: So-so. And why was that? He said: well, the issue of accuracy is no longer taken as seriously as it ought to be, and mentioned the story of his cousin, who had been depicted as a deserter from the Syrian military only a few days earlier in a video broadcast on the channel. He was said to have defected to the Free Syrian army in a short recording placed online by the rebels.

But that could well be true, replied a colleague. “Not at all.” Fadi replied. “That was a hostage video. The fear apparent on my cousin’s face, having just been captured by the rebels, was unmistakable.”

Later Fadi went on to say that Al Jazeera now presumes to know better than one’s own family members what is happening to someone in Syria. “Only when I said that my cousin had disappeared two days before his wedding, were some people willing to reconsider,” Fadi said. “Thank God no one got the idea that the groom was trying to escape a forced marriage.” He doesn’t muster a laugh. His cousin never returned and is presumed dead. When the story was leaked to a Lebanese newspaper, this was the response from a person in charge at Al Jazeera: “Oh, those damn yellow papers…”

“This is an office of the Muslim Brotherhood”

Al Jazeera has become the mother of invention: Those who have protested to the editorial board or turned their backs on the station are “supporters of the Syrian regime,” as  Yaser Al Zaatra, the Jordanian author affiliated with the Islamist camp, wrote this spring in a guest article published on — it almost defies belief – Al Jazeera’s very own website.

The attacks against its employees waged on its own website are meant to obscure the fact that Syria is not the core issue in this internal conflict, but rather the station’s lack of professionalism. Cairo’s Al-Jazeera correspondent Samir Omer moved to Sky News earlier this year not because of Syria, but rather, as he told his colleagues: “Because I could not stand it anymore. This is no longer an Al-Jazeera office. This is an office of the Muslim Brotherhood” — in other words, the very group that is supported by Qatar in all Arab countries, and is heralded as the winner of the” Arab Spring.”

Ministers are made into prophets

The Paris bureau chief Ziad Tarrouch was Tunisian, not Syrian. He left in silence last summer, shortly after the presidential elections in France. Unsurprisingly, after weeks of continuous suffering and following repeated subpoenas from the French authorities, because Al Jazeera’s regular guest, Sheikh Yusef Al Qaradawi, had appeared on the station and called for the killing of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. This had invited a lawsuit against the station in France for “incitement to murder.”

”Damn it, I’m a journalist!” Ziad had mumbled to himself during his last days at the station. When the Russia correspondent Mohammad Al Hasan also left later that summer, he replied to media queries from news agencies about his departure by saying that he was expected to deliver incendiary reporting on Russia. In response, the fanciful minds in Al Jazeera’s editorial department sought salvation with the claim that Al Hasan was leaving to open a kebab shop in Moscow.

It is difficult to gauge what the now retired former US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and former Iraqi Information Minister Mohammad Said Al-Sahhaaf are up to these days. But Al Jazeera would have granted them cause for belated delight. Both will go down in history as prophets for having declared that “Al Jazeera does not tell the truth.” 

Now, almost ten years later, the statement has unfortunately come true.

And so it has finally come to this. Even for me, this means I must bid my farewell. Since October, Al-Jazeera’s Germany correspondent can no longer be found “on the air.”

aljazeera latuff

This interview with a former news editors of Al-Jazeera appeared on a social networking site. The interviewed journalist remains anonymous for obvious reasons. He answered the following questions:

1. Why were you fired from Al Jazeera?

2. What kind of pressures were you exposed to?

3. What happened when the Syrian Electronic Army penetrated Al Jazeera’s website?

4. Were you linked to the Syrian Electronic Army before the penetration?

5. Are the rumours about how the fabrications and lies are carried out by Al Jazeera true?

6. What do you say to your colleagues in Al Jazeera?

7. What do you say to the Syrian people?

=============

1. Why were you fired from Al Jazeera?

Until this moment I do not know why I was fired but my political position and my constant refusal to engage in the policy of Al Jazeera regarding the coverage of the Syrian crisis likely contributed towards it. This is in addition to being critical of its narratives and distortions that were in opposition to the professional media standard it once followed which led to it being ranked amongst international channels.

The dismissal letter did not mention any specific reason! It only terminated my contract according to the employment terms and came in the wake of my explicit refusal to prepare Syrian news as well as several penetrations by the Syrian Electronic Army and others who loved the truth and their homeland.

The letter was directed as being immediately applicable despite the perfect record I maintained throughout nearly a decade, during which I did not get any penalty and was promoted many times confirming my professionalism. It seemed however that the institution of “the opinion and the other opinion” did not count amongst the ranks of those who took the initiative to terminate my contract after various penetrations which revealed Al Jazeera’s transformation into a tool of incitement and support for terrorist acts in my country.

2. What kind of pressures were you exposed to?

According to me, the first pressure was to cover the Syrian crisis itself, including Al Jazeera’s campaign of fraud from its onset. Upon my protest and criticism as well as my attempts to correct their policy, the reply was these were “individual errors” that should be overlooked. However, the succession of these “errors” showed that the network was not abandoning its method which were commanded by Qatari officials without a doubt.

Some of my colleagues and I were trying to identify and clarify the facts since we were from Syria and we know it more than most of the other workers who were from varied nationalities and levels of knowledge about the region. The discussions were more like fights except for some people whose conscience was still intact.

There was pressure from officials to push me to participate in the Syrian news coverage and preparation, but I repeatedly refused to do so alongside a number of colleagues to the resentment and annoyance of the management team.

One of the officials attempted to force me to write about Syria but I rejected his orders because they would edit and interfere with my work in a manner that the administration wanted. I believe this was the straw that broke the camel’s back and I was asked to resign.

The peer pressure from the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, and they were many of them there, was almost daily. Various provocations and dealings were unworthy of the so-called “carriers of the banner of freedom” to the extent that it came to the threat of physical liquidation only due to my opinion that was in opposition of their extremism. Their talk was hatefully sectarian and they always spoke of the desire to change the government of Syria by substituting themselves for it.

I still remember their demands “announce your position, the boat is sinking” and their threats “thank your god if you get a pardon when we become the government”, “the majority is with the Muslim brotherhood and governance is within our grasp”.

They would prophesy to other colleagues since the first month of the near collapse of the Syrian government. Their language was disgusting. They said that civil unrest would begin in the coast, Hama and Homs, and that their “democratic” system entitled murder based on sect and identity.

When confronted about their distortion of facts, they would wave it away with abhorrent sectarianism. As an example, there was a video clip which has become infamous for its intensity and horror. It was a video of slaughtered people’s corpses being thrown off the Orontes River and was presented as being people killed by the army and “Shabiha” throwing them.

I have made it clear to the officials at the time that those bodies were dressed in military uniforms and those who threw them were cursing the army. How could they flip the truth like that? An official was upset with the Muslim Brothers who acknowledged fraud and answered, that it was “ok” as the soldiers deserved to be slaughtered due to their sect. I then replied to the administrator for him that he was lying yet again and that everybody knows that the Syrian Arab Army consists of all communities and all the men who are eighteen years would enlist so that almost every family in Syria had sons in the army.”

3. What happened when the Syrian Electronic Army penetrated Al Jazeera’s website?

Do you mean what happened or what didn’t happen? I knew it was simply a complete paralysis that confused management for hours, especially when management had paid enormous amounts of money generously to a security support company that suffered many short comings and flaws that all workers knew about. There were previous attempts to penetrate the system such that the department began to disable images in articles, to the degree that administrators stopped taking the company seriously. The next blow was fatal came when Syrian Electronic Army managed to post their messages on the site, disabling it from functioning at all to the confusion of officials and the support company.

I also knew that as a result of that the internet was blocked in spite the journalistic work tied to it and the restriction of the internet to a limited set of equipment. As well as that, all the passwords were changed via a personal request to the support company. Also, all of the staff were asked to change the password to their email addresses every month and that it should contain symbols, letters and numbers so that it is not easily penetrated and such penetration would fall under penalty of perjury, which has not happened in the history of the channel.

4. Were you linked to the Syrian Electronic Army before the penetration?

No, I had nothing to do with the Syrian Electronic Army before the penetration of Al Jazeera despite my admiration for the existence of people like this in my country. I tried to respect the company that I worked for as well as the professional code of honor that they ignored though I did not want to.

After I finished my contractual obligations with the channel, I started cooperation with the Syrian Electronic Army, the fruit of it which was the breakthrough of the Al Jazeera mobile broadcast system sending messages to the subscribers about a country attacking Syria similar to the “sincerity” of those broadcast by Al Jazeera about my own. There was also an attempt to hack Al Jazeera’s news ticker in the same manner.

5. Are the rumors about how the fabrications and lies are carried out by Al Jazeera true?

Sadly, yes. The channel started instigation and ‘revolutionizing’ through the broadcast of video footage from Yemen and Iraq and other countries to stir the emotions of Syrians and play with their affection. When we tried to point out this, we were either ignored or told that it was an individual mistake. However, it turned out that this is a trend and that there is a well-drawn plan. The fake footages kept coming, from the funny ones, the sad ones and the one who had living dead (that one showed a group of people praying for two persons presumably dead but are seen later on a motorbike!). Demonstrations around the famous clock in Homs turned out to be in Qatar; this latter fabrication was debunked by friends who love their country, could spot the clock, film it and send it to one of our channels.

When it comes to the eye witnesses who used to describe things as if they were inside Syria and close to the events, their phone numbers were from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Kingdom and other countries. The webmaster of the website had to correct news based on the comments and the mockery of the website’s visitors concerning the claims of the ‘eyewitnesses’, that were so contradictory a small child would not believe them. The channel’s administration had to filter what the eyewitnesses said before going live. Indoctrinating was performed as well which is not surprising since the person responsible of the Syrian file in the channel is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The special design for the ‘Syrian revolution’ page on the web contained a picture of a previous demonstration which had a banner that said ‘Long live the President’. The banner was tampered with by removing the writing, putting something else in and then used ‘innocently’ by the channel.

The slogan ‘the view and the other view’ disappeared and the motto of credibility and neutrality balanced to one side while explicitly ignoring the other side. Professionalism has become non-existent and this is what we made sure of previously. The fall of the media has become imminent.

Yes, Al-Jazeera has lied and is still lying. The proof is in the successive resignations, dismissals and… especially of important figures like the director of the Al-Jazeera bureau in Beirut Ghassan Ben Jeddo and the reporter Ali Hashem, who dared and spoke the truth about the presence of armed men from the very beginning, which made the administration go berserk and got revenge from whoever gave him the opportunity to appear on TV.

And amongst the important dismissals was the director of the news Hassan Shawky, known for his journalistic and professional aptitudes, worked for around 15 years at the channel and was asked to leave Qatar in 48 hours!

This approach reaches all the administrative bodies of the channel. It included the website where journalists Oday Johnny and Rou’aa Zaher were dismissed without any reason but their refusal to the blemishing of the channel and the extremism of the Muslim Brotherhood, the latter controlling the Syrian file at Al-Jazeera.

And last but not least of the resigned is the director of the Berlin bureau Aktham Sleiman, a Syrian, who was, at the beginning, with the opposition. He voiced his opinion from the beginning with the Syrian anchor woman Rola Ibrahim. However, and according to a trusted co-worker, he resigned after he saw the anxiety, lies and despicable sectarianism that Rola herself was a victim of since the very beginning, despite her protesting again it via messages on the ‘Topak’ system, used by Al-Jazeera employees, but to no avail.

An administrator with a conscience told me before I left: we haven’t only lost credibility, professionalism and impartiality but we also lost conscience and humanity

6. What do you say to your colleagues in Al Jazeera?

I say to my colleagues on Al Jazeera and in all media, fear God and the blood and suffering of the Syrian people, words can kill. I know that the vast majority of them are in search for a living and a better place and that many knew the truth and saw through the channel practices, but were helpless. Shake your consciences for your involvement in the bloodshed in my country. God will one day ask you what you have done.

7. What do you say to the Syrian people?

I say to my fellow Syrian nationals, the truth will prevail and falsehood will die soon, God willing. Yes we do deserve a better future, but no one should convince themselves that the West and its tools wanted a good future for Syria. The coming alternative does not carry any democracy but blood.

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One comment

  1. Reblogged this on Piazza della Carina.



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