Bailed Al Jazeera journalist reveals the truth about the network’s agenda and role in his fate
Mar 12, 2015 | Allon Lee
Mohammed Fahmy is an Al Jazeera journalist currently on bail awaiting retrial in Cairo on ludicrous terrorism related charges, and a close colleague of Australian Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste, who was released after imprisonment on the same trumped-up charges in late January.
An Egyptian-born Canadian, Fahmy, has just joined the chorus of Al Jazeera employees revealing that the Qatari royal family, which owns and runs the news organisation, sets and interferes with the organisation’s editorial line, and says that this interference has damaged his ability to defend himself from the Egyptian charges.
This is, of course, hardly news to AIJAC readers and is merely further confirmation from an insider that Al Jazeera is nothing like an independent news service.
Yet again, as the roll-call of its questionable behaviour and biased reporting grows ever longer and more acutely embarrassing, organisations like the ABC and SBS continue to justify their continued reliance on Al Jazeera English news feeds for increasing portions of their Australian coverage.
Writing in Canada’s Globe and Mail, Fahmy attacked Al Jazeera for “what Al Jazeera has opted to hide from the eyes of the public.” He says that while he is grateful for the efforts of Al Jazeera and others to gain the release of himself and his two colleagues, “The integrity I have embraced throughout my journalism career is why I feel obliged to reveal what Al Jazeera has opted to hide from the eyes of the public.”
He explains that the organisation compromised his defence by refusing, for its own reasons, to let its lawyer contest a coerced confession from Baher Mohamed, the third jailed Al Jazeera journalist, despite Fahmy’s pleas that they do so.
He also says that the organisation’s decision to launch a US$150 million lawsuit against the Egyptian government in the weeks before his verdict marked the death knell for his chances of acquittal, sensationally remarking that:
“I know how the grapevine works in Al Jazeera and that the managers who defend the actions of the channel are only parroting the instructions filtered down from its Qatari chairman, who happens to be from the royal family. It is Qatar’s business if they opt to sue Egypt, but not when I am stuck in a cage in such a politicized case.”
(This was not the only example of Al Jazeera‘s reckless indifference to its employees awaiting trial. As AIJAC’s Ahron Shapiro wrote last year, just 10 days before Fahmy and his colleagues Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed were found guilty on June 23, Al Jazeera was reporting wild anti-Egyptian conspiracy theories that could only have damaged their chances for acquittal.)
Getting to the heart of the matter, Fahmy notes that Al Jazeera was in fact a political weapon directed by Qatar against Egypt during the Arab Spring:
“What can’t be ignored is the political score-settling between Qatar and Egypt that has left us pawns behind bars. The verdict killed two birds with one stone: Egypt sent a clear message to my fellow reporters to toe the government’s line, and delivered a punch in the face to Qatar for supporting the Muslim Brotherhood.”
Fahmy also condemned the head of the channel for trying to veto his preferred legal representatives because “in his words, ‘They don’t suit the politics of the channel.'”
In the end, Fahmy’s lawyer agreed to “waive the majority of his fees. He did a great job on Jan. 1, 2015, in the appeals court. He stood outside the court in his elegant suit and eloquently defended me to scores of journalists: ‘If you work for Al Jazeera it does not automatically mean that you are in the Muslim Brotherhood.'”
With Al Jazeera established, owned and bankrolled by the Qatari royal family, we should not be surprised that this dynasty, which has chosen to throw its support behind the Muslim Brotherhood internationally, used the media organisation against the former secular Mubarak regime, which it certainly regarded as one of its major regional competitors.
Al Jazeera Arabic is notorious for its antisemitic and anti-Western reports, lionising Osama bin Laden and celebrating on-air the birthday shortly after the release from an Israeli prison in 2008 of Samir Kuntar – who spent 29 years in an Israeli jail for a 1979 attack in which five Israelis were murdered, including a four-year-old girl.
What Fahmy, who worked for Al Jazeera English, did not do in the op-ed was differentiate between the two arms of the organisation, as some defenders of the network insist on trying to do.
Al Jazeera English has been unconvincingly defended on the basis that it is supposedly immune from managerial interference but as I blogged last month – and as Fahmy avers in his article – it is clear, based on a series of internal leaks, that this is nonsense.
The National Review Online‘s Brendan Bordelon reported that when the Charlie Hebdo massacre occurred, Al Jazeera English editor and executive producer Salah-Aldeen Khadr emailed his staff to push the line that the cold blooded murders were not a “civilisational attack on European values”, but rather a “clash of extremist fringes” in which, he implied, Charlie Hebdo should be viewed as just as guilty as the murderers.
And yet, an unnamed ABC spokesperson quoted in the Australian on the leaks defended the broadcaster’s ongoing decision to rely on Al Jazeera English news feeds, saying, “the ABC is not aware of any complaints relating to the editorial content during Al Jazeera’s coverage.”
The ABC was clearly concerned enough to cover the leaks story, but only by running an interview the next day on “World Today” with a former Al Jazeera employee who had written a book on his experiences there and could be relied on to essentially endorse the organisation.
This leak, however, was not a one-off example of editorial interference.
A few weeks later Bordelon reported that Al Jazeera English executive Carlos van Meek emailed his New York and Washington D.C. newsrooms after a January 27 Islamist attack on a hotel in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, and warned against using a list of “key words” such as “terrorist” in describing violent attackers because “one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter.” Also off limits were the words militants, radicals, insurgents, Islamist and jihad. Importantly, Van Meek’s email made it apparent this decision was not atypical, backing up his directive by stating this is “straight out of our Style Guide.”
Unsurprisingly, as AIJAC has reported over many years and repeatedly in the past few months, Al Jazeera English is also a relentless pusher of anti-Israel material that invariable portrays the Jewish state as a ruthless aggressor and the Palestinians as hapless victims.
Unfortunately, some of this flawed material makes its way onto our national broadcasters.
As recently reported by AIJAC’s Ahron Shapiro, the latest faux pas from Al Jazeera English was its decision to run a story, based on Palestinian media sources, falsely accusing Israel of opening dams in southern Israel and thereby flooding sections of Gaza. The reality, of course, was more mundane. There are no such dams in southern Israel. The flooding was a result of excessive rain alone.
In the event, somewhat surprisingly Al Jazeera English apologised. Of course, it should never have reported the canard in the first place, especially since the same spurious allegation was made and exposed as baseless in 2013. Yet this is par for the course with Al Jazeera coverage of Israeli-Palestinian issues: Palestinian claims against Israel are always treated as true until and unless conclusively proven false, Israeli claims and views are to be treated with disdain until and unless they can be incontrovertibly proven true, as in the dams example.
Wisely, neither the ABC nor SBS picked up this story.
However, as Shapiro pointed out in the same post, the ABC did take the bait on an Al Jazeera English/Guardian newspaper claim that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was incorrect in 2012 when he asserted Iran was close to acquiring nuclear weapons. The evidence to back the proposition was sourced back to the intelligence community in South Africa, a country that has exceedingly poor relations with Israel, and in any case did not support the claims Al Jazeera and the ABC made about it.
Also damning was the broadcasting of Al Jazeera English stories by ABC and SBS during last year’s war between Hamas and Israel, many of which included wild accusations of war crimes that were totally divorced from reality, failed to alert listeners to basic facts about Gaza and for “expert” opinion relied on activists with a long history of anti-Israel extremism.
It is no coincidence that Hamas, another Muslim Brotherhood-affiliate organisation, has long included Qatar, whose ruling family both fund and directly run Al Jazeera, among its main benefactors.
And then there was the long running saga in 2012/13 featuring allegations cooked up by Al Jazeera English and Arabic that former PLO chairman Yasser Arafat was poisoned (see my reports here and here). Israel, of course, was identified by most media organisations as the main suspect and it generated major coverage on TV, radio and in print in Australia. In fact, Al Jazeera even ran full-page advertisements in various newspapers to generate publicity for its story.
At a certain point, enough is surely enough, and the powers that be at the ABC and SBS must realise that Al Jazeera English and Arabic are today’s equivalent of what Pravda was in the Soviet era or RT, the Russian state-funded television network known for its conspiracy theories and blatant efforts to serve the agenda of the Putin regime. Neither SBS nor ABC would take feeds in their regular news from RT – the same should apply to Al Jazeera.