Salama Na'mat, head of Al-Hayat Newspaper's bureau in Washington DC appeared on Al-Jazeera TV and criticized the conduct of the Qatari-based channel. Following are excerpts from the interview:
Salama Na'mat: I don’t disagree with the fact that 600 people were killed in Falluja. But I object to an Al-Jazeera reporter saying: "They were killed by the American forces." First, we don't know how they were killed.
Moderator: In Falluja?
Na'mat: Yes, in Falluja. We don't know if there were armed men among them or not. When the American forces bomb a Falluja mosque a question arises. The question that should be asked is why the armed men hid in a mosque in the first place and put it under threat? Why do they hide among civilians and endanger their lives? There are two sides to this issue.
We must acknowledge things that are indisputable. The Israeli forces are capable of preventing Al-Jazeera from covering events in the occupied territories, true? The occupying military force can do this to Al-Jazeera and others, but they don't. The American forces are occupying Iraq and are capable of preventing Al-Jazeera from entering Falluja or covering any event, that's true. They can close the Al-Jazeera bureau and send them back to Qatar. It is also true that Al-Jazeera is a Qatari governmental broadcasting authority, financed by the government of Qatar, which also appoints the board of directors, and hence anyone who works for Al-Jazeera is actually a Qatari government employee.
I'm not against the coverage of events, but I am against presenting events one-sidedly. I have no problem if you say that a certain number of people were killed. The question is how they were killed. How come the reporter, who is not an eye-witness, assumes that they were killed in a certain way?
Moderator: Alright, Norman…
Na'mat: I would like to say one more thing. In the Palestinian or Iraqi context, eliminating the difference between legitimate resistance, as for example in Palestine, against the occupation forces and the armed settlers, and between bombing busses and school children, caused the Palestinians to lose their case in the world. When there is no strategic military balance between the man of resistance and the occupation force, Al-Jazeera, or others should not encourage people to commit collective suicide just because this benefits those on the Palestinian side who want to fight down to the last Palestinian child and in Iraq those who want to fight down to the last Iraqi child.
As for what Norman said, he must know that Al-Jazeera is not an independent satellite broadcasting station because it is governmentally owned, otherwise the Qatari government would have offered the station's shares on the markets and the private sector would have purchased them.
Moderator: Excuse me Salama, there seems to be a misunderstanding. The British government and Parliament can decide to stop supporting and funding the BBC and then the BBC will stop broadcasting.
Na'mat: True, but the BBC abides by proper professional and ethical journalistic standards, while Al-Jazeera does not. Regarding the media coverage that is allowed in Palestine and Iraq but not in other places, a month ago there were events in Qamishli in Syria and a massacre was committed against the Kurds, but Al-Jazeera did not cover it. Why?
Moderator: Because Al-Jazeera was not in Syria at the time…
Na'mat: Would the Syrian government or any other Arab government for that matter, allow the coverage of such an event?
Moderator: In Saudi Arabia Al-Jazeera faces the same problem. They don't let Al-Jazeera in at all…