A recent report in Nation Magazine attributes the support by the Al Jazeera television station for Islamic movements to the influence of the station’s General Manager Waddah Khanfar who has been linked to the Muslim Brotherhood. According to the report, Al Jazeera coverage changed when Khanfar took over in March 2003:
“How things are covered, the prominence of things, what words are used–sometimes you do see that very clear Islamist subtext, depending on the issue,” says Alberto Fernandez, the director for press and public diplomacy in the Bureau of Near East Affairs at the State Department. “We see the unconditional support of Islamic movements, no matter where they are: Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan,” says a Jordanian official who did not wish to be identified because of what he characterized as the deteriorating relations between his country and Qatar. Dozens of hours of viewing Al Jazeera for this article confirm the charge. Whether it’s reporting the Hamas perspective from the occupied territories without mention of the Palestinian Authority’s version of events, or the fawning depiction elsewhere of Islamist parties and militias as the grassroots reflection of Arab sentiment, Al Jazeera has moved away from its ideologically diverse origins to a more populist/Islamist approach. After the March 2003 US invasion of Iraq, Al Jazeera replaced its longtime secular bureau chief in Baghdad, Faisal Yasiri, with Wadah Khanfar, who had reported from Afghanistan after the American invasion in 2001 and then Kurdish-controlled territory as the war with Iraq was launched in 2003. Shortly thereafter, the secular head of Al Jazeera, Mohammed Jassem Ali, was ousted and replaced by Khanfar, whom nine current and former employees of the station interviewed for this article characterize as an Islamist. It was around this time that Jazeera’s Iraq bureau “became a platform for [Sunni] extremists,” says Shaker Hamid, a secular Jazeera correspondent in Baghdad from 1997 to 2000, who left to work at another Arab satellite station after getting what he says was a better offer. “I can’t say that Jazeera’s rhetoric is completely against Shiites,” Hamid says. “The Americans introduced this, but the media should not make it worse, and Jazeera did.”
The report goes on to say that the trend toward Islamism at the station is continuing:
Former employees of Jazeera interviewed for this article say the newsroom is becoming more religiously conservative. “Everyone is complaining about the new trend now–that the liberals, the secular types, the Arab nationalists are getting downsized and the Islamic position is dominating the newsroom,” says Hamid, the former Baghdad correspondent. Mirazi, the former Washington bureau chief, told Al Hayat: “From the first day of the Wadah Khanfar era, there was a dramatic change–especially because of him selecting assistants who are hard-line Islamists.”
Previous posts have reported that Khanfar appeared to have been on his way to being dismissed over his alleged connections with Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, but that does not appear to have taken place. A memo purporting to be a 1998 briefing document prepared for the South African President Thabo Mbeki has long been posted on the Internet and identifies an individual called Wahdan Abu Ahmed KHUNFUR who it says was a Trustee of the Al Aqsa Foundation in South Africa as well as a Hamas contact. The memo appears to be genuine but the unconventional spelling of Khanfar’s name likely prevented wider dissemination of the information. The Al Aqsa Foundation is one of the organizations comprising the Union of Good, the worldwide coalition of charities collecting money for Hamas and directed by global Muslim Brotherhood leader Youssef Qaradawi.