US Leans on Qatar Government to Sell Al-Jazeera

28 April 2005

Al-Jazeera, the least favourite satellite TV channel of president George W Bush and UK prime minister Tony Blair, is likely to have a 'for sale' sign hung forcibly around its neck in the near future, following pressure by the US government on its owner, the Gulf state of Qatar.

Also breathing heavily are various other US-friendly Arab nations, all of which have effectively imposed an advertising boycott of the irritatingly independent channel, whose politics have consistently angered the US and its allies. Despite (more likely because of) this, it commands an audience of between 35-40 million viewers across the Middle East.

Complains US state department regional director Hans Wechsel: "We have issues with [Al-Jazeera] giving a platform to people who are calling for violence. It's not a matter of government interference, it's strictly an issue of ethics. After all, we raise ethical concerns with journalists in the US too."

But the station denies it is biased in favour of anti-western terrorists. Responds the head of its Washington bureau, Hafez al-Mirazi: "The US must know that the country [Qatar] hosting their airbase is not funding al-Qaida. They just have a problem with us showing any civilian casualties in Iraq."

And the author of a book about the channel, Hugh Miles, insists that Al-Jazeera is better than even-handed in its coverage of US-Arab issues: "They have shown five hours of bin Laden's speeches in total - and 500 hours of Bush."

Privatisation would almost certainly see the delivery of Al-Jazeera into commercial hands. The outcome most feared by the channel's editorial staff is purchase by Saudi interests.

Wadah Khanfar, the station's director, told UK newspaper The Guardian that consultancy firm Ernst and Young has been hired to look into possible privatisation models. However, as yet, no final decision has been taken.

According to a viewer in adjoining oil-rich state Bahrain: "A critical station is something completely new in this region. We have never before had a TV programme or a newspaper that criticises the government."

Data sourced from; additional content by WARC staff