By Kirsten Murphy, Silha Fellow
Established in 1996, with financing from the emir of Qatar, Al-Jazeera is the only independent broadcasting organization in the Arab states and is watched by 35 million people in the Arab world. The satellite station has a total of 65 million viewers worldwide. But critics have accused the station of being everything from anti-American to anti-Arab to pro-Osama Bin Laden.
NYSE and Nasdaq
On March 24, 2003, the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) withdrew credentials from Al-Jazeera's two economic correspondents, Ramsey Shiber and Ammar al Sankari. This is the first time the NYSE has withdrawn credentials from journalists since it began granting them in 1994. The NYSE gave no specific reasons for the revocation, citing security and working space concerns.
The next day, the Nasdaq stock exchange followed suit, informing Al-Jazeera that it would no longer allow its journalists to use Nasdaq facilities to broadcast live reports. Nasdaq, however, said that its ban was based on Al-Jazeera's decision to air images of American soldiers killed and captured in Iraq.
The Los Angeles Times reported on March 26 that Nasdaq spokesman Scott Peterson stated, "In light of Al-Jazeera's recent conduct during the war, in which they have broadcast footage of U.S. POWs in alleged violation of the Geneva Convention, they are not welcome to broadcast from our facility at this time."
Critics of Al-Jazeera's decision to air the images of the soldiers assert that the station violated the Geneva Convention by subjecting the dead and captured POWs to "public curiosity." Article 13 of the Third Geneva Convention states that "prisoners of war must at all times be protected, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity." However, the Geneva Convention applies only to signatory states, not to independent media organizations.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld stated in an interview with CBS News on March 23 that Al-Jazeera is "not a perfect instrument of communication in my view, obviously is part of Iraqi propaganda," when asked about the images aired by the station. At a Central Command News Conference on March 23, Lt. Gen. of Central Command John Abizaid, chastised an Al-Jazeera correspondent: "You're from Al-Jazeera television. I'm very disappointed that you would portray those pictures of our servicemen. I saw that, and
I would ask others not to do that."
The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) denounced the NYSE and Nasdaq decisions as acts of censorship that will hurt American journalists working abroad. The SPJ asked the NYSE to reconsider its decision. In a press release, SPJ president-elect Mac McKerral stated: "A decision to deny Al-Jazeera reporters credentials does nothing to support our country's image as a place where free exchange of ideas and information serves as the foundation for everything America does." The press release is available
The station's decision also sparked debate over whether it is ethical for news organizations to show graphic images of war dead. Al-Jazeera has defended its decision, stating that the media should not hide reports and images of war casualties from the public. In a March 30 interview with John Ydstie of National Public Radio, Al-Jazeera's spokesman Jihad Ballout responded, "I think the question is: What should media report?
Should media report what it is asked to do? Should media report what it's not asked to do? Or should media report what actually happens, especially in cases of unfortunate conflicts such as the one we have at the moment? War by itself is horrible. I think media would be deceiving its audience if it was to doctor or dress up or edit or censor any of the information that actually make people aware of all aspects of whatever unfortunate
stretch you are in."
Hackers Attack Al-Jazeera English-language Web site
On March 25, 2003, computer hackers attacked the English-language version of the Al-Jazeera Web site using a so-called denial-of-service attack, which means that hackers bombarded the website with false requests to the Web servers, overloading them and making the Web site temporarily unavailable. The attack came the day after the English language page of the Web site debuted on the Internet.
It is believed that the hackers are in the United States because the servers that host Al-Jazeera are located in France and the United States, and only United States servers were attacked.
The Web site became available again within about 24 hours after the attacks. However, two days later, on March 27, the site was hacked again. Visitors to the site were redirected to a page picturing an American flag and the words: "Let freedom ring."
According to a March 31 Wired News article, some hackers have condemned the Al-Jazeera attacks, calling the perpetrators "crackers" and "script kiddies" who use their computer skills irresponsibly.
Iraq Bans Al-Jazeera Reporters in Baghdad
On April 3, 2003, Al-Jazeera announced that the Iraqi Information Ministry had banned its reporters from broadcasting from Baghdad, Iraq. The Information Ministry ordered Al-Jazeera's Reporter Diar al-Omari to stop reporting, and correspondent Tayseer Allouni was forced to leave Iraq. Al-Jazeera said no reasons were given for the ban. The station announced that it would suspend all correspondents' reports from Iraq and only continue
with the minimum service of broadcasting images from Iraq. The next day, the Iraqi Information Ministry lifted its ban on the two journalists.