Ron Rosenbaum

A Challenge to English-language al-Jazeera

Where art thou, al-Jazeera? While writing a column analyzing The New York Times’ coverage of the loathsome Tehran Holocaust conference — which you can find today on the New York Observer’s website — I sought to find out how the month-old English language al-Jazeera tv outlet would be covering the conference. You would think that would be easy to find out. but by the time my Observer column went to press I wasn’t able to find out because of English language al Jazeera’s weird inaccessibility for news organization.

I’d heard from someone visiting the station’s D.C. headquarters that the dates of the Holocaust (deniers) conference had been posted in grease pencil on a whiteboard in the station’s newsroom. So I tried to reach the Qatar based station’s K Street headquarters in D.C., but somewhat surprisingly for a news channel, it’s phone number is unlisted, What’s the deal.? I tried the Qatar Embassy, I tried the Arab Information Centers in D.C. and New York City. No one had a number for al Jazeera.

One hears complaints that no cable or broadcast operation has picked up the English language al-Jazeera feed. I’m all in favor of English language al Jazeera getting a cable outlet. Perhaps a listed phone number might help. Most journalistic organizations find them useful. Finally a journalist friend gave me a New York number for a p.r. firm that represents English language al Jazeera. I asked the rep. there if I could get any information on whether or how the English language and Arabic language versions of al Jazeera would be covering the Tehran Holocaust conference. I imagined that they would have access most Western stations would not. She said she’d get back to me. She never did.

I wondered what kind of coverage they’d give to a Holocaust denier conference, given the fact that Holocaust denial is extremely popular(and rarely challenged) in the Middle East and has become a fixture of Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s campaign to delegitimize the State of Israel. It would, I imagined, be a test and a challenge to English language al-Jazeera’s claim that it would not be an “objective” news channel, a kind of Middle East-focussed CNN, not the outlet for beheading videos, al Qaeda communiques and anti semitic rants its Arabic language outlet is known for.

I’ve always had great respect for Dave Marash the head of al Jazeera’s English language news division. The former Nightline reporter has pledged to run a straight-up news operation and I believe he wants to. But he must know there are those who are going to be skeptical until he proves them wrong.

Here’s a dramatic way to do so. Here’s my advice for–and my challenge to–English language al-Jazeera. Use your access to do a documentary about the Tehran Holocaust deniers conference. Expose the lies unchallenged there. Demonstrate that “objectivity” doesn’t mean reporting poisonous propaganda with neutrality. It would be a perfect way to prove your independence in a manner that would encourage cable and broadcast operations to pick up your feed. It would be a great service to the cause of truth and peace in the Middle East, since peace will only result from the exposure of hate propaganda.

What are you waiting for?

Oh, one more piece of advice for this supposedly professional broadcast news operation: get a listed phone number.