Speaking at the CIPR’s Maggie Nally Memorial Lecture, which was held at the UK Houses of Parliament, Richard Gizbert shared his views on how the negative association of Al Jazeera and Al Qaeda impacted AJE’s efforts. Gizbert is the presenter of AJE’s The Listening Post, a show about the media.
He shared some interesting insights, from the Bush administration’s antagonism, to difficulty securing facilities in London, to being carried in Israel while unpopular in Canada and the United States.
Here are some of his gems:
“One would have thought that there would be an appetite for a new perspective,” said Gizbert, “but we were facing a mass of operational challenges because the leader of the free world, George W. Bush, was calling Al Jazeera, ‘Bin Laden TV’, and saying we were working with terrorists.
“Domald Rumsfield, for example, famously said our (Arabic Speaking) coverage of Fallujah was ‘lies, over and over and over again.’
“It was very difficult environment to start a news channel in, even getting cable access in the United States was a huge problem, and remains one today.”
“Even finding property in London in which to establish a bureau was very difficult. We got down to serious negotiations with four different landlords only for mysterious problems to occur just before we signed leases, like other tenants were worried about security.”
“The thing I could not figure out about that, even if we were ‘Bin Laden TV’ and they were worried about London being bombed, wouldn’t they be safer with us in the building?”
“The English speaking world,” said Gizbert, “were being told by its leaders that we were the bad guys, not through anything we had done - we had not even been on air at that point - but we were suffering from the reputation that had been earned by Al Jazeeera Arabic - which up to 9/11 they US thought was a good idea.
“And what I found funny about that was our relationship with Al-Qeada was not unlike the relationship the IRA had with the BBC. Al-Qeada was using Al Jazeera to get their message out to their target audience in the same way the IRA used the BBC to get its message to the British mainland. And nobody called the BBC ‘IRA TV’.”
“Curiously, the main cable operators in Israel were taking Al Jazeera. So the Israelis were happily watching a channel which the Americans and Canadians were not showing in order to protect Israel.”
“But the Israelis accepted Al Jazeera, they did not like us, but they never banned us. The countries that banned us at one time or other included Jordan, Egypt, Bahrain - but the Israelis put up with us.”