Mideast News Network Has Fans Here: 
Al Jazeera's Coverage Uniquely Uncensored

By Jonathan Curiel

The Middle East's independent television network, Al Jazeera, is finding an audience in the Bay Area as well. Bush administration officials have accused the Qatar satellite network, which is watched by millions halfway around the world, of bias in its coverage of the U.S. war in Afghanistan. It's not a view shared by Al Jazeera's local audience.

"I watch it almost daily," San Francisco businessman Fuad Ateyeh said. "I watch Al Jazeera and CNN -- but I get more coverage from Al Jazeera." Ateyeh is one of 150,000 U.S. subscribers who pay $22.99 a month to get Al Jazeera from the DISH Network, the Colorado company that distributes Al Jazeera in the United States.

With correspondents in 31 countries, the network is unusual in the Middle East for its timely news reports and analysis. Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein -- and now National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and British Prime Minister Tony Blair -- have all given interviews to Al Jazeera.

"It's the only Arab-language (outlet) in the Middle East that's not censored," said Glynn Wood, a professor of international studies at the Monterey Institute in California and a former State Department official.

For people like Ateyeh and high-tech professional Rasmi Shaker of San Jose, Al Jazeera has done a better job covering the war than the U.S. media.

"You see in your own eyes the legs and the heads of the civilians (injured and killed) as a result of the coalition," Shaker said. "CNN is not showing the human voice of the war. It makes me sick."

The Taliban gave Al Jazeera permission to stay in Afghanistan during allied bombings; correspondents from CNN and other Western media organizations were expelled.

CNN has used images from Al Jazeera -- as it did when it showed part of Osama bin Laden's videotaped speech after the United States began bombing Afghanistan on Oct.7.

U.S. officials, however, have taken a dim view of some of Al Jazeera's coverage. Secretary of State Colin Powell cautioned that the Persian Gulf station gives "an undue amount of time and attention to some of the most vitriolic, irresponsible kinds of statements." The DISH Network even says it reserves the right to black out Al Jazeera's programming.

Arab Americans who watch Al Jazeera say attacks on the network's credibility come at a time when information from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan is scarce -- information that could affect public opinion about the war.

"Rumsfeld is saying the Taliban's (claim of civilian deaths) is 'ridiculous, ' but I see with my own eyes (on Al Jazeera) a poor man crying in his village. I see where more than 140 people have been killed," Shaker said.

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