Al-Jazeera Head Fears New Arab Charter Is Threat To Station


A U.K. newspaper is reporting that the head of Al-Jazeera, linked to both the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, has harshly criticized a a charter published last week by the Arab League. According to the report, the charter:

..calls on broadcasters to avoid insulting Arab leaders, respect Muslim values and uphold the cultural and social traditions of Muslim states, stipulating that satellite TV channels “should not damage social harmony, national unity, public order or traditional values”. It adds that programming should also “conform with the religious and ethical values of Arab society and take account of its family structure”. The charter was adopted by 21 information ministers in a summit last Tuesday in Cairo, with Qatar the only Arab League country to vote against it. The Arab League’s council of minsters also approved the document.

The report cites the concerns of Wadah Khanfar, al-Jazeera’s director general, who appears concerned that the charter may serve as the basis of closing Al-Jazeera which has been critical of Arab governments as well as accused of anti-American bias:

“The document is aimed at the free press in the Arab world,” Khanfar said. “It contains very general and ambiguous statements that could be used at any time to close a channel down or take if off air.” In the past, Arab governments have arrested correspondents, closed down bureaux or pursued al-Jazeera and rival broadcasters through the courts. However, the new document goes much further, according to Khanfar. “Our concern is it puts certain rules and conditions in place,” he said. “Who is going to decide if a leader in a particular country has been ‘insulted’? In this region, regimes have never been in favour of a free press or freedom of expression, so to hand over to them the right to decide [who broadcasts what]is very dangerous,” Khanfar added. Most seriously, al-Jazeera believes the charter could give Middle East governments the power to switch off satellite signals and force broadcasters off air. All satellite broadcasters rely on just two groups; Arabsat, based in Saudi Arabia, and Egypt’s NileSat. The Arab League does not have legislative or executive power, but member states are expected to act on last week’s document. “There is no mechanism of implementation but the league is saying it will introduce one in two or three months’ time,” said Khanfar. “We are going back in time. We thought we’d left this behind us. Satellite TV has transformed the region into a much more democratic place. We might have expected this 10 years ago but not now after it has become an entrenched reality.” Khanfar said al-Jazeera was considering legal action. “Our lawyers are looking at it and many satellite companies are working to coordinate a position and a response,” he added.

Previous posts have discussed Mr. Khanfar’s links to Hams and the Muslim Brotherhood as well as accusations that the station has been supportive of Islamist movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood.

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