No To US-demanded Crackdown on Free Media

The following article is from Ali Abunimah, October 4, 2001. It is in reaction to attempts by the U.S. State Department to influence the flow of news in the Middle East. The original article can be found at

No To US-demanded Crackdown on Free Media
Ali Abunimah

October 4, 2001

There can be no more shocking and disgusting demonstration of US double standards than the demand delivered by US Secretary of State Colin Powell that Qatar crack down on the independent satellite TV network Al-Jazira.

According to the BBC, Powell asked Qatar to reign in the influential and editorially independent television station, which gives airtime to anti-American opinions among many others. The emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad Khalifa al-Thani, confirmed after a meeting with Powell in Washington that he had been asked to exert influence on the Qatari-based channel, which can be received almost worldwide.

Al-Jazira is one of the few sources of reliable and comprehensive news reporting and debate about the Arab and wider worlds.

As someone who watches Al-Jazira daily, I can say that there is nothing on this network that matches the shameless nationalism, open hostility to Arabs and Muslims and occasionally outright incitement that often passes for "news" and "analysis" in the United States media, both electronic and print not to mention the "entertainment industry."

How would the United States government react if Arab countries demanded it crack down on the semi-official daily The Washington Post which in August published a series of articles demanding that Israel launch a war of annihilation against the Palestinians? Or would the US government be prepared to crack down on CNN which for hours after the September 11 atrocity repeatedly played a clip of a small handful of celebrating Palestinians inviting viewers to take that as indication that Palestinians were either responsible or universally pleased with the attack? Or how about the major US TV networks which rely for most of their analysis on former government and military officials who are often hostile to Palestinians, Iraqis and others?

I hope the United States government would never crack down on any media, and that no government will heed hypocritical demands to do the same. Here in the US, where what passes for television news is largely nothing more than advertisements, diet tips, mawkish sentiment and attempts to give every story a selfish personal or financial angle for every viewer, independent news beamed in from the outside world has never been more vital. Here, where no person is permitted to speak on any issue for more than eight seconds at a time, the kind of free, in-depth debate provided by Al-Jazira should serve as an example and a reminder to the American media as to what their job is supposed to be. Is it this very freedom that the United States government hates and wants to destroy even as its accuses others of wanting to destroy the freedoms we enjoy here in America?

The greatest service Al-Jazira could do is to continue its mission undaunted by these unconscionable demands, and to start broadcasting in English so that Americans too can begin to comprehend at long last some of the issues and problems their government has mired them in.

The United States is justified in seeking the cooperation of every country to track down the perpetrators of the September 11 atrocities and bring them to justice. But stifling the freedoms of others in the name of protecting your own is a formula that the US has tried before. It didn't work then and it will not work now.

(Note: I have sent a letter based on the above commentary to Powell at [email protected])

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