Arab TV Network Plays Key, Diputed Role In Afghan War
By Warren Richey

DOHA, QATAR - Three of the most defining images of America's "war on terrorism" haven't come from CNN, the BBC, or any other Western network.

A defiant Osama bin Laden flanked by his chief aides in an Afghan mountain hideout. A bin Laden spokesman delivering a chilling threat that the "storm of airplanes will not be calmed." Young children bruised and bandaged in Kabul hospital beds after US military bombing raids in Afghanistan.

All are the work of Al Jazeera, a pan-Arab satellite television news station based here in this tiny oil sheikdom. With 35 million viewers in the coffee shops and living rooms of the Middle East, in five years it has emerged as the most credible and lively source of news in the region. Now it is playing a pivotal role in shaping public perceptions of the US-led campaign in Afghanistan.

It is a role that had already prompted Washington to lean on the emir of Qatar, even before the world-wide broadcast of calls for jihad by Mr. bin Laden and his supporters. Some analysts say the broadcast of such rhetoric in a volatile region should give journalists pause.

"This isn't playing with fire, this is using a flamethrower in terms of the potential impact on the governments in the Islamic world," says James Morris of the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter, in Britain. "This is Osama bin Laden's loudspeaker."

Others say it should be left to editors to decide how to handle bin Laden's prerecorded statements. They cite free press principles, noting that in dangerous times the public deserves to have full access to information about future threats.

Caught in the middle of this debate is Al Jazeera, the only television news station permitted to remain in Taliban-controlled areas in recent weeks. (In a shift of policy, the Taliban yesterday escorted a busload of Western journalists to Khorum, a village in eastern Afghanistan. The Taliban maintains that a US air raid last week killed as many as 200 people there.) Click to continue reading the article.



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