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Cablegate: Cda Criticizes Arab Media Charter, Strikes Back At

VZCZCXRO2655
PP RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHKUK RUEHROV
DE RUEHDO #0237/01 0841116
ZNY EEEEE ZZH
P 241116Z MAR 08
FM AMEMBASSY DOHA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7732
INFO RUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON 1091
RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS 0149
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 1356

UNCLAS E F T O SECTION 01 OF 03 DOHA 000237

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR NEA/PPD AND NEA/ARP

E.O. 12958: DECL: N/A
TAGS: KPAO PREL EG QA ALJAZEERA
SUBJECT: CDA CRITICIZES ARAB MEDIA CHARTER, STRIKES BACK AT
AL JAZEERA AT BROOKINGS EVENT

REF: DOHA 154

Classified By: CHARGE D'AFFAIRES MICHAEL A. RATNEY, FOR REASON 1.4 (B).

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: As a panelist at a public event sponsored
by the Brookings-Doha Center on March 17, Charge expressed
the USG's position that an Arab League charter proposing to
limit satellite channels not be used to restrict media
freedom (reftel). Charge said that media should be
regulated not by politicians, but by professional
associations and laws adopted by democratically elected
legislatures, which are reviewed by independent courts.
Co-panelist Ibrahim Helal of Al Jazeera agreed, speculating
that the charter was aimed primarily at Egypt's domestic
satellite media, while Egyptian human rights activist Saad
Eddin Ibrahim disagreed, asserting that the charter was
aimed mainly at Al Jazeera. Both panelists suggested that
the charter had the implicit backing of the USG. They also
accused the United States of deliberately bombing Al
Jazeera's news bureaus in Afghanistan and killing its
correspondent in Iraq. Charge called such allegations
ludicrous and offensive, and pointed out that Al Jazeera
operates freely in the United States, despite the USG's
concerns about its negative editorial slant. Qatari media
reaction to the event has been straightforward. Al Jazeera
Mubashir -- the network's equivalent to C-SPAN -- aired the
event on March 19 at 1900 GMT. END SUMMARY

----------------------------------
MEDIA FREEDOM GOOD, REGULATION BAD
----------------------------------

2. (SBU) On March 17, the Brookings-Doha Center organized
a panel discussion entitled, "Forward or Backward? The
2008 Arab Satellite TV Charter and the Future of Arab
Media, Society and Democracy," with Charge, Al Jazeera
English Deputy Director Ibrahim Helal, and Egyptian human
rights activist and American University of Cairo professor
Saad Eddin Ibrahim. In their opening remarks, all three
panelists characterized the Arab League charter adopted on
February 12 as a threat to media freedom, and an
inappropriate attempt by politicians to protect themselves
at the expense of the public's right to information. Helal
allowed that there were some satellite channels "promoting
hate and violence," which "cannot be put into the same
category as Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya when defending media
freedom." Arab media outlets, however, were "too divided"
and "should have come together before this to regulate
ourselves and talk with each other about our standards."
He noted that Al Jazeera had adopted and made public a code
of ethics in early 2004, to which he said the network
adheres closely. The charter, in his opinion, represented
an attempt by the Egyptian Government to crack down on
domestic independent satellite channels, which the regime
had been slow to recognize were skirting laws barring them
from reporting on news by incorporating current events into
their talk shows.

3. (SBU) Saad Eddin Ibrahim said he did not believe that
the sub-standard quality of some satellite stations was
behind the creation of the charter, but that Al Jazeera was
the "elephant in the room" when Arab Ministers of
Information held their first-ever emergency session to
discuss and adopt the charter. Arab autocrats, he said,
"are trying once again to close the Arab mind, and we must
do all we can now to defend the few windows that we have
still open," including broadcast satellite channels. Dr.
Ibrahim encouraged people to show signs of civil
disobedience in the days before the next Arab League
meeting to discuss the charter, scheduled for June.
Individuals could, he suggested, put black flags in their
windows, or turn off their lights for an evening in
protest.

4. (SBU) Speaking last, Charge described the long history
of press freedom in the United States, beginning with
protections in the Bill of Rights, and quoting Thomas
Jefferson's preference of living in a country without
government, rather than a country without newspapers if
forced to choose, due to the vital importance of the press
in a free society. Charge then described how most laws
serve to protect journalists, and how regulations of the
free airwaves are arrived at through legislation written by
democratically elected representatives, and reviewed by an
independent judiciary. The USG believes, he said, that
media is best regulated through professional associations

DOHA 00000237 002 OF 003


which adopt codes and standards of conduct, rather than the
whims of politicians seeking to protect themselves at the
expense of the public's right to know.

------------------------
SPARRING WITH AL JAZEERA
------------------------

5. (SBU) Brookings' moderator then asked Charge how the
USG squares Jeffersonian ideals about a free press with its
"rough history with Al Jazeera" and the fact that it
sometimes chooses not to engage and even ban certain media
outlets. Charge responded that the USG had serious
concerns with Al Jazeera's coverage of events in Iraq,
particularly in 2003, and that we had aired these
differences publicly. Despite these differences, Al
Jazeera was invited to embed a journalist with U.S. troops,
and has always operated in Washington, DC and throughout
America without restrictions.

6. (SBU) Ibrahim Helal then intervened, denying that Al
Jazeera was allowed to embed any reporters with U.S.
troops, and that in fact, their correspondent had to "sneak
into Iraq through Kuwait" and was mistreated by the U.S.
military once he arrived in Iraq. Al Jazeera had endured
the U.S. bombing of its bureaus in Afghanistan and the
killing of one of its journalists, he said, so "we should
now talk loudly about how the U.S. Government's policies
have helped the Arab Ministers of Information arrive at
where they are now." Later in the program, Saad Eddin
Ibrahim noted that "certain administration officials who
promoted freedom a few years ago now promote stability,
which is just a code word for stagnation." That is why, he
continued, "there is a feeling that Washington and Tel Aviv
are behind this charter and why Al Jazeera has been banned
in the United States."

7. (SBU) CDA immediately objected on both occasions,
stating that any allegation that the United States
deliberately targeted a news bureau or murdered a
journalist is "ludicrous and offensive." Al Jazeera has
never been banned in the United States, he added, and it is
available to anyone who wants to see it by satellite. If
cable companies choose not to carry it, that is a
commercial decision, not a political one. The fact is that
Al Jazeera English is competing against a variety of
well-established English news networks, and simply has not
made a convincing case to cable companies that carrying it
-- as opposed to some other station -- would be more
profitable.

-------------------
LET'S COME TOGETHER
-------------------

8. (SBU) Charge reminded the panelists that they had come
together to discuss the Arab League media charter, not the
USG's relationship with Al Jazeera, so the conversation
should stay focused on that topic. Helal and Dr. Ibrahim
took the opportunity in response to further questions from
the audience to reiterate their desire to see Arab media
outlets come together to discuss a common code of ethics --
particularly to avoid the specter of self-censorship -- and
for the general public to register its discontent with this
attempt to restrict the media. "What they are going to
continue doing in June," Dr. Ibrahim said, in reference to
the next Arab League meeting on the charter, "is not
regulation, but strangulation."

--------------
MEDIA REACTION
--------------

9. (U) Qatari media reaction was mostly straightforward
but scant reporting in the English media, with only the
Qatar Tribune devoting a front-page, above-the-fold article
to it. Arabic daily al-Raya printed a headline for an
otherwise balanced article that focused on the differences
aired by Helal and the Charge. Arabic daily al-Watan
provided overall straightforward reporting, with a
full-page spread inside its March 19 edition.

-------
COMMENT
-------


DOHA 00000237 003 OF 003


10. (SBU) Al Jazeera Mubashir, the network's channel that
provides live coverage of conferences and proceedings not
unlike C-SPAN in the United States, recorded the event and
then aired it on March 19 at 1900 GMT. Post found the
event an excellent opportunity to publicly support media
freedom - a value it ostensibly shares with Al Jazeera and
the Qatari leadership - while also forcefully answering Al
Jazeera's oft-repeated charges of USG targeting of its
people and facilities. We were pleased to see that Al
Jazeera had the decency to air the exchange unedited and,
through translation, in Arabic.

RATNEY

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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