WikiLeaks: Al Jazeera used as diplomatic tool

Monday, December 6, 2010

LONDON - The state-owned Doha-based broadcaster Al Jazeera is used as a diplomatic tool in the Middle East, despite claims of its independence, according to US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks.

“Al Jazeera Arabic news channel will continue to be an instrument of Qatari influence, and continue to be an expression, however uncoordinated, of the nation’s foreign policy,” according to an assessment contained in one of the cables.

In another cable, US diplomats referred to the satellite “station’s political masters”. Media freedoms were not advancing as a whole in the Gulf country, according to the documents.

“The Qatari government claims to champion press freedom elsewhere, but generally does not tolerate it at home,” the US embassy in Doha reported in June 2009.

WikiLeaks, a whistleblower website, gave Britain’s Guardian newspaper access to the confidential correspondence.

US diplomats also reported that Qatar was “supporting problematic players such as Hamas, Hezbollah and Syria” and was continuing to “pragmatically pursue relations with Iran”.

The diplomats also noted a more positive portrayal of the US by the channel since the election of Barack Obama.

“We expect that trend to continue and to further develop as US-Qatari relations improve, particularly to the extent that Al Jazeera coverage is made part of our bilateral discussion,” US diplomats wrote.

“This is the US embassy’s assessment, and it is very far from the truth,” Al Jazeera said in response to the release of the cables, saying it was “guided by the principles of a free press”.

Also noted in the cable was “Qatar’s annoyance” with infractions of immigration and customs laws by US soldiers in the country, but the diplomats said measures were being taken to address the tensions.

Qatar holds the third largest proven natural gas reserves in the world and also hosts US military bases. It has been selected to host the FIFA World Cup in 2022.

Filed under: Diplomacy

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