Terrorist Use of News Media

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"Terrorist Use of News Media"

Osama Bin Laden tape shown on Al-Jazeera

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By: The Associated Press

Date: October 7, 2001

Source: The Associated Press.

About the Author: Founded in 1848 in New York, the Associated Press serves as a news source for more than one billion people a day worldwide.


Launched in 1996, Al-Jazeera has established a reputation as the leading independent news source across the Arab world. With a mix of snappy graphics, gripping reporting and aggressive interviews, not to mention an array of stunning scoops, Al-Jazeera has come to dominate the Arab airwaves.

Backed by the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad, the tiny Gulf state where the network is based, Al-Jazeera was founded by Arab journalists trained by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) to run the British network's abortive Arab TV channel. To the annoyance of many of his neighbors, the Qatari leader gave Al-Jazeera's editors a free rein to report what they liked, which, combined with the principles honed at the BBC, made for explosive television in a region otherwise gripped by censorship and state-run channels.

At various times, Al-Jazeera has been banned in a number of different Middle Eastern countries because of the nature of its open reporting (though this has seldom stopped individuals in the banned countries from illegally viewing Al-Jazeera via their own private satellites). Most notable amongst these was Saudi Arabia, about whose royal family Al-Jazeera routinely reported; and Bahrain, who accused Al-Jazeera of being too "pro-Zionist," or favorable to the state of Israel.

Al-Jazeera's journalistic independence soon fostered a trust with dissident groups across the region, some with extremist convictions. As most other Arab media outlets are state run and state censored, there was a likelihood that, for instance, a Hezbollah activist giving an interview to Egyptian TV would be revealed to the relevant authorities. Al-Jazeera often maintained the confidentiality of its sources when they requested, and this practice handed Al-Jazeera a number of exclusive news stories, adding to its burgeoning reputation.

Acclaim started to give way to notoriety after the September 11 attacks, however, when al-Qaeda first passed on tape recordings purporting to take responsibility for the attacks to Al-Jazeera. Then, four weeks after the atrocities, Al-Jazeera broadcast (and also sold to Western media outlets) a video recording of Osama Bin Laden warning the United States of further attacks.



See primary source image.


The broadcast of Osama Bin Laden on Al-Jazeera provoked outrage from the United States government. The National Security Advisor, Condaleeza Rice denounced the station and Colin Powell, the U.S. Secretary of State, accused Al-Jazeera of passing on coded messages in the broadcast.

When U.S. officials asked Sheikh Hamad to stop Al-Jazeera from giving terrorists a voice, Hamad reminded them that for years, they had been asking Arab governments to eliminate censorship in the media.

The Bush administration repeatedly called into question Al-Jazeera's journalistic principles, but journalists across the world still debate the broadcasts. Despite the Bush administration's dislike of Al-Jazeera, Powell, Rice, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld all made appearances on the network.

In December 2001, during the war in Afghanistan, the United States bombed Al-Jazeera's Kabul bureau. The U.S. government claimed the event was a wartime accident.

In 2003, the U.S. military launched a military attack on Al-Jazeera's Baghdad bureau, killing Tariq Ayoub, a correspondent for the station. There were no military sites nearby and the BBC reporter Rageh Omaar, who was stationed in the nearby Palestine Hotel, described the bombing as "suspect." He said: "We were watching and filming the bombardment and it's quite clearly a direct strike on the Al-Jazeera office. This was not just a stray round. It just seemed too specific."

Al-Jazeera continued to draw fierce criticism from the U.S. government throughout the Iraq war, in particular when the channel aired graphic footage, provided by Iraqi television, of American soldiers and dazed American prisoners of war being questioned in broken English. By 2003, bolstered by its coverage of events in Iraq, Al-Jazeera was regularly drawing forty-five million Arabic speaking viewers, and had plans for an English language channel.

In November 2004, Al-Jazeera unexpectedly broadcast another message from Osama Bin Laden, his first appearance in more than two years. In this tape, Bin Laden explicitly took credit for killing nearly 3,000 Americans in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.



Miles, Hugh. Al Jazeera. London: Abacus, 2005.

Web sites

Al-Jazeera Online. <http://english.aljazeera.net/HomePage> (accessed 11 July 2005).

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