Tuesday, January 17

The War on News

The Aljazeera network is on British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s case to release part of a memo documenting a conversation between Blair and President Bush that took place back in April 2004, a conversation in which Bush allegedly talked about bombing Aljazeera’s headquarters in Doha, Qatar.

According to Yosri Fouda, acting Al-Jazeera bureau chief in London, the network has hired Finers Stephens Innocent LLP of London to “attempt to put pressure on the British government” to hand over the transcript. Both the Blair government and the Bush administration deny that any such conversation took place and a Blair spokesman issued the following statement:
“We will reply properly in terms of any request to us but it is not the practice and will not be the practice to release conversations between the prime minister and other world leaders; but what we can confirm is that the memo does not refer to bombing the Aljazeera station in Qatar, despite the various allegations.”

Back in November, the Daily Mirror, a British tabloid, first reported the details of the conversation on the basis of a leaked memo. According to the newspaper, Blair attempted to dissuade Bush from targeting Aljazeera. I suspect Blair might be addicted to Arabic daytime television.

It’s difficult to know what to believe here. It is certainly possible that Bush talked about bombing Aljazeera, given his cowboy posturing, total lack of judgment, and his open hostility to the network for what he considers inflammatory reporting, including the network’s decision to broadcast audio tapes and statements made by Al Qaeda and Iraqi insurgents. Furthermore, at least one British MP (member of parliament) Peter Kilfoyle, claims to have been briefed on the leaked memo by former MP Tony Clarke who supposedly saw the memo itself. Kilfoyle claims that in addition to discussing an attack on the Iraqi town of Falluja, the memo also mentioned that Aljazeera had been discussed as a possible target.

The most compelling indication that this story might actually be true is that two men, including Leo O’Connor, a researcher who worked for Clarke, have been charged with leaking the memo and are awaiting trial. The two men are being prosecuted under Britain’s Official Secrets Act, and their lawyers are pushing for the secret document to be released. I guess the only question is whether or not the memo, which clearly exists, includes any suggestion to bomb Aljazeera.

Actually, Aljazeera has already been bombed by the United States. In 2001, U.S. bombs struck their Kabul office, and in 2003 one of their reporters, Tareq Ayyoub, was killed in a U.S. strike on the network’s Baghdad office. However, the United States has denied targeting the network.

I suppose you can’t blame Bush really. I mean, sometimes watching the news can really make your blood boil. And who amongst us, in our heart of hearts, hasn’t secretly wished that Fox News would get bombed?



Meanwhile, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has lifted the ban on CNN after initially declaring war on the network for a faux pas in which recent remarks he made defending Iran’s right to a nuclear energy program were mistranslated as a defense of Iran’s right to acquire nuclear weapons.

During CNN’s live translation of a press conference by Ahmadinejad this past Saturday, he was quoted as saying: “we believe all nations are allowed to have nuclear weapons” and that the West should not “deprive us to have nuclear weapons.” Ahmadinejad, however, was using a Farsi word that meant “technology” and not “weapons.” CNN was subsequently banned from Iran until they apologized. CNN issued a mea culpa, and Ahmadinejad quickly asked Iran’s ministry of culture to lift the ban, which they did. I hope CNN will keep their Farsi dictionary handy from now on.

However, Ahmadinejad’s beef with Aljazeera remains, and there’s still no indication that the network will be allowed back into Iran. In April 2005, Aljazeera was banned from Iran following accusations that it was inciting ethnic violence in its coverage of clashes between ethnic Arabs and Iranian security forces in the southwestern part of the country.

1 Comments:

Anonymous ringverse said...

In response to al-Jazeera's Freedom of Information request, Tony Blair's Official Spokesman told us today that the memo recording that Bush-Blair conversation does not refer to bombing al-Jazeera.

But in December 2005 the Cabinet Office responded to a previous FOIA request [it was refused] with the following:

"Thank you for your email of 24 November in which you request a copy of any memos or notes that record President Bush's discussions with the Prime Minister about the bombing of the al-Jazeera television station in Qatar...
I can confirm that the cabinet Office holds information which is relevant to your request."


Both answers cannot be correct. Either the Cabinet Office or the PMOS have got it wrong, or are not telling us the truth...

More details about the previous unreported FOIA request here.

6:48 PM  

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