The “Free Press”..? Part 1

Those members of the press who don’t tow the official line tend to get shut up in no uncertain terms. It happened when British and American forces struck at Serbian TV during the recent Balkans campaign and the same thing happened more again to Al Jazeera TV’s offices in Kabul. The Gulf based TV station had sprung to prominence after it aired interviews with Osama bin Laden, and in the process aroused the ire of the Bush administration. According to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell Al-Jazeera was giving too much time to “vitriolic, irresponsible kinds of statements.”

But al-Jazeera refused to be silenced. “We are in the business of news. Our policy is to air all shades of opinion. The attention of the world is riveted on Afghanistan. If we don’t show it, who will?” asked Ibrahim Hilal, al-Jazeera’s chief editor. “We put every word, every move of President Bush on the air. Arabs accuse us of being pro-American, even pro-Israeli. The Americans say we’re pro-Taliban. We must be doing something right.”

Not every journalist agreed though. The American-Israeli columnist Zev Chafets, writing in the New York Daily News had recently described Al Jazeera as “an Arab propaganda outfit” and “one of the most potent weapons in the Islamic Axis arsenal.”

“The free press is a symbol of what America’s enemies hate about this country” he continued. “Dealing with Al Jazeera is a job for the military. Shutting it down should be an immediate priority because, left alone, it has the power to poison the air more efficiently and lethally than anthrax ever could,” Chafets said.

Days later the US Air force complied and hit Al Jazeera’s Kabul offices. Although Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. David Lapan (USMC) told journalists that the building housing Al Jazeera had been intentionally targeted because it was a “command and control facility” for Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda group.