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Media Analyses





Al-Jazeera Top Official Obfuscates the Truth on C-SPAN Call-in Show


Mostefa.Souag.AlJazeera.jpeg

C-SPAN's Washington Journal daily three-hour call-in show aired what amounted to an infomercial for the Al-Jazeera America network. An Aug. 27 2015 segment  featured Al-Jazeera top official, Mostefa Souag (pictured above), acting director General of Al-Jazeera Media (presides over the Al-Jazeera Arabic, English and America networks) and board of directors chairman of Al-Jazeera America. Al-Jazeera America and C-SPAN (mainly in its flagship program, Washington Journal) exhibit a common failing. Both networks chronically mislead viewers about Israel, airing bogus negative portrayals of the Jewish state. CAMERA Web features “C-SPAN Watch” and “Al-Jazeera America Watch” have documented this journalistic malpractice for years. 
 
In the Journal segment, the two networks essentially combined for what turned out to be a 38-minute promotional. Of the eight viewer phone calls taken in the segment, six were regular Al-Jazeera America viewers who mainly praised the network. Only two were critical regarding the network; one of these was unhappy with the network's less-than-positive portrayal of marijuana use. The other (Sheldon from Boca Raton, Florida) made a serious point (see below) critical of Al-Jazeera America related to the fact that the network chronically reflects the foreign policy objectives of the Qatari ruling family, owner/operator of Al-Jazeera Arabic, Al-Jazeera English and Al-Jazeera America. The oil-rich and natural gas-rich Persian Gulf state of Qatar in recent years had angered both Egypt and Saudi Arabia by funding Sunni Muslim radicals, including the anti-Israel, Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Journal host John McArdle failed to follow up pertinent questions to which guest Souag had responded defensively, disingenuously or evasively.

Less than credible responses
 
Host opened with the question, "What is Al-Jazeera'a philosophy for covering the news?" Souag replied, "Well, Al-Jazeera is about covering the news professionally, accurately, objectively in a balanced way. The purpose is to provide people with knowledge … We try to bring not only the news but also the context … and analysis from experts on all sides." Worthy sounding. However, as CAMERA has repeatedly shown, the network's Arab-Israeli reporting consists mainly of anti-Israel set-ups rather than the objective, balanced news coverage Souag touts. Likewise, the guest dubiously claimed that Al-Jazeera, unlike most news media entities, has more than "one opinion ... we provide a variety of opinions." Host should have requested examples of Al-Jazeera's “variety of opinions.”
 
Replying to McArdle's question, "Does that [the Qatari government funding of Al-Jazeera networks] get in the way of objectivity," guest replied adamantly, "… there's no interference whatsoever. It's an independent editorial policy – we work independently from the government and this is one of the misconceptions about Al-Jazeera … they [critics] think there must be restrictions or even guidance from Qatar – there is none." McArdle typically failed to pursue this key point. In fact, CAMERA's coverage of the network clearly shows that its heavily biased Arab-Israeli reporting is consistent with Qatari policies that have included  funding Muslim extremists including the Muslim Brotherhood ("How Qatar is funding the rise of Islamist extremists," The Telegraph [U.K.], Sept. 20, 2014).
 
Disappearance of a correspondent
 
One of the more telling indications of Qatari government interference or influence is the early 2015 disappearance from Al-Jazeera America's airways of its own American correspondent who since 2013 had covered Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. An online search shows that Nick Schifrin's last Israel-Arab report was Feb. 28, 2015 and his last Al-Jazeera report (from Nigeria) took place on March 13, 2015. Schifrin's Twitter page, as of Sept. 7, 2015, identifies him as a former Al-Jazeera America Middle East Correspondent, with no updated information. Was Schifrin (formerly an ABC News correspondent based in London) suspended (or fired) for running afoul of Qatari/Al-Jazeera policy regarding the July-August 2014 Israeli military operation (known as "Operation Protective Edge") against Hamas, the Islamist ruler of the Gaza Strip? 
 
CAMERA reported on Aug. 11, 2014: “An Al Jazeera America video report by correspondent Nick Schrifin describing a Hamas rocket launching site in the middle of a residential Gaza neighborhood, and also showing an Israeli attack near that site, has apparently disappeared from the Al Jazeera site.” The CAMERA report includes the video clip of Schifrin's August 1 report showing what had been and continued to be denied by Hamas and its supporters – that Hamas rocket sites were embedded in residential neighborhoods, thereby endangering Arab residents, rather than locating the sites in unpopulated areas.
 
Missing the Qatar soccer story
 
McArdle asked about what could be a human rights violation committed by Qatar, “How do you ensure objectivity when it comes to stories that are critical of the government of Qatar. One that comes to mind recently is the building of soccer stadiums involving the death of workers … built for the future [soccer] World Cup?” Souag squirmed, "What is happening there, I mean, they are building for a big event in 2022… We don't deal with sports that much. We have very small segments for sports. If what happened had some sort of relevance to our audience then we would report but what happens in Qatar is not that important to [our audience]." In fact, the network routinely runs lengthy stories on human rights violations taking place or alleged to be occurring in various areas including the Middle East – and airs lengthy sports reports – for example, a seven-minute report on Aug. 30, 2015 at 5:50 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time.
 
Law suits against the network
 
McArdle asked Souag to "address the status of some law suits ... [regarding] non-Arabs and women – against Al-Jazeera America." Souag obfuscated, "Again, I would say again and again and again that if you want to make up your mind about Al-Jazeeera, watch the channel ... We want more women ... we have 45 percent women reporting ..."

Typically, McArdle failed to follow up on an important point. In fact, a legal complaint was filed against Al-Jazeera America and Ehab Al Shihabi, the former CEO who stepped down last month amid turmoil inside the channel's newsroom. Cable News Network (CNN) reported online (June 11, 2015):

A fired Al Jazeera America executive filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit against the channel on Thursday [June 11] levying damning allegations about the integrity of its news coverage and the treatment of its employees. Shannon High-Bassalik, Al-Jazeera America's former senior vice president of programming and documentaries, says in the complaint that she witnessed the channel abandon "journalistic objectivity" in order to "advance a pro-Arabic/Middle Eastern agenda, often at the expense of Jewish people."... Her suit, filed in federal court in Los Angeles, details what she said were blatantly discriminatory practices against women and non-Arab employees.

[...]

One of those executives, former senior vice president of outreach Marcy McGinnis, said that she resigned to escape the "culture of fear" at Al-Jazeera America. The other two executives, former executive vice president of corporate communications Dawn Bridges and former executive vice president for human resources Diana Lee, resigned "as a direct result of the discriminatory and hostile work environment in place at Al Jazeera," according to High-Bassalik's complaint.

[...]

The complaint by High-Bassalik, who formerly worked at CNN and NBC News, makes several claims about how that directive manifested itself inside the Al-Jazeera America newsroom. During last summer's clash between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, High-Bassalik says that Al-Jazeera America news and programming department "was explicitly instructed to favor the Middle Eastern point of view and cast Israel as the villain." When producers attempted to show "balanced news reports," High-Bassalik recalls, Al-Jazeera America management accused them of being "very biased for Israel."

Caller’s reasonable cynicism

Late in the program, Sheldon from Boca Raton, Florida called, "I want to say that you [Souag] are a very good spokesman for Al-Jazeera and very convincing and charming. I appreciate what you said [promoting Al-Jazeera] but I find it hard to believe that Qatar is so noble. I think this is improbable." Souag replied, "Actually it was difficult for me to believe before I joined Al-Jazeera because it was too good to be true… How could Qatar do this with no motives? Qatar benefits in terms of reputation… We are independent of Qatar…"

But caller's skepticism is warranted (see points above). Additionally, in a recent example, Al-Jazeera America reported as news a Pallywood (Palestinian video propaganda) short. CAMERA and its UK Media Watch affiliate had cast doubt on the apparently staged August 28 incident. By the time Al-Jazeera aired what may have been a bogus melodrama and in any case, was barely a blip from a Middle East in bloody turmoil, England's Daily Mail and Telegraph already had backed off their initial, uncritical reports (see "Telegraph and Daily Mail Retreat from Tamimi's Latest 'Pallywood'").
 
On Aug. 30, 2015 (5:34 p.m. Eastern), host Maryam Nemazee from Al-Jazeera English studios in London (showing the video clip), said: "The 12-year-old Palestinian boy who was pinned down against his broken arm by an Israeli soldier on Friday has spoken out about the incident. Video of the soldier scuffling with women and children in the occupied West Bank went viral after it was posted on line. The soldiers were reacting to stones that had been thrown at troops. Mohammed Tamimi's arm was in a cast when the soldier was filmed pinning him down as he tried to arrest him." The boy (Mohammed Tamimi) said (translated): "I was watching when the youth threw stones at the Army. And when the soldiers began to shout, I ran way. There were three soldiers. One caught my cousin, and another caught me. And I tried to run away. But he caught me and threw me to the ground and started hitting my face with stones. And beat on my broken hand and smothered me."

Apparently only two networks in the United States ran this dubious video with its anti-Israel story. One was Al-Jazeera America. The other was One America News Network (OANN) which aired it August 30 at 8:32 p.m. OANN, possibly short on experience and/or staffing may have been fooled by the Palestinian propaganda machine since there has been no indication of anti-Israel bias by the network. The Daily Mail (of London, England) Web site  had cast doubt on the initial report after numerous questions and complaints:

Questions have been raised over the authenticity of shocking images of a boy with a broken arm being held at gunpoint by an Israeli soldier after a 13-year-old girl seen biting his attacker is said to be a prolific 'Pallywood star'. The remarkable images which surfaced online on Friday appeared to show an IDF soldier armed with a machine gun grappling with the little boy as two women make desperate attempts to pull him off following protests in the West Bank. A young girl is seen ambushing the balaclava-clad soldier by forcing the weapon from his hands and biting him before he flees the scene ... Girl in pictures is believed to be Ahed Tamimi, whose parents Bassem and Nariman are Palestinian activists. She has appeared in a string of similar videos where she confronts Israeli soldiers and once won a bravery award ...

Clearly, what Al-Jazeera airs – at least about the Israeli-Arab conflict – is unreliable at best. And on C-SPAN's Washington Journal, even when the right questions are asked, evasive answers get the last word.


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