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Jazeera crackdown { October 4 2001 }

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Thursday, 4 October, 2001, 11:07 GMT 12:07 UK
US urges curb on Arab TV channel

Qatar underlined the need for a free media

Washington has asked Qatar to rein in the influential and editorially independent Arab al-Jazeera television station, which gives airtime to anti-American opinions.
The emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad Khalifa al-Thani, confirmed after a meeting with US Secretary of State Colin Powell in Washington that he had been asked to exert influence on the Qatari-based channel, which can be received almost worldwide.

Al-Jazeera had exclusive footage of the Buddha destruction in Afghanistan

It was al-Jazeera which carried the faxed statement purportedly from Osama bin Laden, calling upon Muslims to fight the US, and broadcast unconfirmed reports that members of the US special forces had been captured in Afghanistan.

It has also been re-transmitting an exclusive interview with Bin Laden conducted three years ago, and featuring a number of anti-American analysts on its talkshows.

Al-Jazeera's apparent independence in a region where much of the media is state-run has transformed it into the most popular station in the Middle East.

Its confrontation of controversial issues and string of scoops, which have included footage of the infamous Taleban destruction of ancient Buddha statues, has earned it praise both within the Arab world and beyond.

Free media

The US is not the first to feel aggrieved by al-Jazeera coverage, which has in the past provoked anger from Algeria, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Egypt for giving airtime to political dissidents.

Correspondents say that its coverage of the Palestinian uprising, already known to infuriate Israel, is not helpful to the US at a time when it is desperately wants Arab countries to see peace in the Middle East.

Other TV stations have been asking for the bin Laden interview

Sheikh Hamad, the ruler of the oil-rich Gulf state, reminded of the need for "free and credible media" after his meeting with Mr Powell, who is trying to build up a global alliance against international terrorism which includes Arab states.

He said he viewed the request as "advice".

The visit by the emir was of particular importance as he is also the chairman of the Organization of Islamic Conference, which includes 56 countries.

After his meeting with Mr Powell he pledged Qatar's full-co-operation. But in an interview with al-Jazeera television he also stressed that the focus of the US campaign must be well considered.

"What happened in the United States has indubitably harmed the reputation of the Arabs," he said. "But the American people must understand that terrorism is not confined to the Arabs."

The US has been at pains to stress that its war is against terrorists and not against Islam.

US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is currently on tour in the Middle East in a bid to shore up support among Muslims.

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