The Courting Of Al Jazeera
By Sarah Sullivan s

It's nearly midnight in Doha, and we are in a cafe on a pier jutting out over the shoreline of the Persian Gulf. The cafe is empty and the night air quiet—except for the insistent ring of mobile telephones. Al-Jazeera Managing Director Mohammed Jasim Al-Ali takes a call from an American TV network executive. The airstrikes are well underway, and the Qatar-based satellite news channel, by now well known to TV audiences and Washington decision-makers alike, is the only TV presence in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. Washington, in early October, asked Qatar to rein in the satellite channel, claiming it fans anti-American sentiment. American broadcasters, though, want Al-Jazeera to make them a deal.

Across the table from Mr. Al-Ali is Octavia Nasr, CNN senior international editor. She's on a mobile too, with an Arabic-language satellite channel which is wooing her in the same way that Western networks have been courting Al-Jazeera over the last several weeks. But a deal has been made between the giants of English-language and Arabic-language TV news, and both sides say they would be hard-pressed to find another partner that could serve them better.

TBS first spoke with Mohammed Jasim Al-Ali in Cairo in June 2000—an interview that, given the number of requests we ourselves received for information about Al-Jazeera, apparently ranks fairly high on the search engines. After our senior editors had received, between them, several dozen requests for radio and TV interviews from media organizations around the world, it became clear that a trip to Doha was in order.

Al-Jazeera started drawing attention early in the current crisis thanks to its exclusive position inside Afghanistan. The channel, which celebrates five years on air this November, established bureaus in Kabul and Kandahar two years ago. "When we started the channel we first concentrated on opening offices in Arab countries and Islamic countries," Mr. Al-Ali told TBS. "We got permission from the Taliban—and at the same time permission was granted to us, it was also granted to CNN, Reuters, and APTN—to open offices in Kabul and Kandahar. The others didn't move in, but for us it was important, because it's an Islamic country."

This means that since the beginning of the current conflict Al-Jazeera has been able to air frequent packaged reports and live shots from their Kabul-based reporter Tayseer Allouni and, via videophone, from Youssef Al-Shouly in Kandahar. But they had no permanent office in Northern Afghanistan; they had previously been sending in reporters from other cities to cover that territory. Click to continue reading the article.


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