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A Dialogue with Mohammed Jasim Al-Ali, Managing Director of Al Jazeera
By Abdallah Schleifer

TBS Senior Editor S. Abdallah Schleifer initially spoke with Al-Ali in Cairo about the development, philosophy, and new plans of the region's hottest, most controversial channel. With recent developments that have clouded relations between Al-Jazeera and Egypt, Schleifer and Al-Ali renewed the dialogue

S. Abdallah Schleifer: Al-Jazeera has an approach to the news that until ten years ago was completely absent from the Arab world. Where did this come from?



Mohammed Jasim Al-Ali: I came to recognize something about the TV business in the Arab world: we concentrate mostly upon entertainment, quiz shows, drama, movies. But I think there is an important field that has been missing, talk shows and news. No one has developed the news, because the reputation of the media in the Middle East is that the news is censored and controlled by the government. All media business in the Middle East is controlled by the government. The leaders of Qatar wanted to change that; they want to have a satellite channel with the aim of no longer hiding any information.


Schleifer:
What inspired them to think that way?

Al-Ali: Partly it has to do with developing technology. You could once control the information-before there was Internet, before there was satellite. People got much of their information from government sources, except when they traveled outside--then you'd find very different news. But it was very difficult even to bring newspapers in from outside because of censorship. When the satellite channels started, it was no longer possible to hide the sources of information from the viewing audience. This is the atmosphere in which Al-Jazeera started.

Schleifer: We began this dialogue last June; it was very obvious then that the Egyptian government was very happy to have you here in Cairo and specifically in the Media Free Zone. The chairman of Al-Jazeera's board had come to Cairo and signed up to undertake production from the zone, making Al-Jazeera the first station to sign up with the zone (since Orbit's deal predated the formation of the Media Free Zone). But with the Intifadah Al-Aqsa, Al-Jazeera very much fell back out of favor with Egypt's semi-official media, and you were denounced in the press in no uncertain terms for both coverage and talk show commentary considered here to be anti-Egyptian. Have these press attacks affected Al-Jazeera's status and mode of operation in Cairo, and has it effected your original plans?

Al-Ali: I can only say that it is not the first time Al-Jazeera has been subjected to such an attack, and it might very well not be the last. We do believe that such clashes will continue as long as there exists these differences between the free media and the official media. But I can confirm that Al-Jazeera will remain solid in its path, and I do believe it will maintain excellent relations with audiences all over the world through tackling the news truthfully and freely. I do believe we will start our work in Media City; it is not so easy now to close the media bureaus in light of the great revolution of communications. Threats by Egyptian personalities should not be taken too seriously. Click to continue reading the article.

 
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