MEMRI President Yigal Carmon participated in an Al-Jazeera TV debate on freedom of speech, in which he said that the channel airs shows that promote jihadi ideology and incite to terrorism, as well as programs that are antisemitic in nature. Abeer Kayed from Howard University said that Al-Jazeera is independent even though it is funded by the Qatari government. Show host Abderrahim Foukara, Al-Jazeera’s Washington, D.C. bureau chief, acknowledged that Al-Jazeera is owned by the government "like Alhurra and the BBC." The show aired on July 22.
Abeer Kayed: "Nobody can deny today that Al-Jazeera is not merely a beacon but a media giant, which cannot be ignored by the Arab world or even globally."
Abderrahim Foukara (host): "Can there be any circumstances that justify a government shutting down a media outlet or demanding its closure?"
Yigal Carmon: "There may be such circumstances. I do not believe that there is complete symmetry between the conduct of Al-Jazeera and CNN, and consequently, between the challenges that face the two channels. Al-Jazeera does not have only one dimension. It has documentaries, news programs, history programs, social shows, sports shows, and talk shows, like this program, in which the guests respect one another, despite their different views. On the other hand, one cannot deny that some shows on Al-Jazeera promote jihadi groups and their ideology, and promote recruitment to these groups.
"This is where the challenge lies. It is an internal challenge more than an external one. Let me present several examples to show how Al-Jazeera reached its current state. For example... And I would like you to allow me to present these examples, so that the debate can be honest and based on facts. When Al-Jazeera broadcasts a birthday party of a jihadist like Samir Quntar, including a big cake, party music, and fireworks... This man was notorious for having killed a four-year-old girl, in a barbaric manner – he hit her head with a rock. I've never seen a similar thing on CNN or any other TV channel in the world.”
"When Al-Jazeera allows Sheikh Yousuf Al-Qaradhawi to call for the annihilation of the Jews – the Jews, not the Zionists or anyone else – as a divine punishment... and he says: 'Allah willing, this will be carried out by the [Muslim] believers.' This is incitement, and it is forbidden by law."
Abderrahim Foukara: "Let's say what you say is true..."
Yigal Carmon: "It is, it really happened."
Abderrahim Foukara: "Let's say that it is true. In your opinion, does this justify a demand by a certain authority that a media outlet – a TV channel or a newspaper – be shut down, merely because of a certain program, or because a certain person said a certain thing in it?"
Yigal Carmon: "Sheikh Al-Qaradhawi is one of the pillars of Al-Jazeera, but what I want to say here is that there are laws. Therefore, I say that the challenge is internal more than external. Al-Jazeera must hold itself accountable, in order to understand why it has reached its current situation."
Abderrahim Foukara: "You have not answered my question: Is there any situation that justifies the shutting down of a TV channel – whether Al-Jazeera or any other TV channel – by a governmental authority or by other countries?"
Yigal Carmon: "You asked me about laws. There are laws that protect against antisemitism."
Abderrahim Foukara: "Are there any laws that justify shutting down a TV channel?"
Yigal Carmon: "Shutting down a TV channel is another problem, but one can think about cancelling certain TV programs that promote terrorism."
William Youmans: "The anti-terror laws in this country enable the U.S. administration to shut down any media outlet supported by terrorist groups, whether by receiving financial support or by maintaining contact with them."
Yigal Carmon: "When Al-Jazeera allows a pledge of allegiance to Al-Baghdadi live on air, when Al-Jazeera allows Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, a spokesman for Al-Qaeda, to speak freely for ten minutes, and to call for 12,000 mujahideen to join Al-Qaeda... This was two months before the attacks on the WTC. When Al-Jazeera employs a correspondent [Tayseer Allouni] who was sentenced in Spain to seven years in prison for transferring funds to Al-Qaeda – and Al-Qaeda even issued a public statement in his support... When Al-Jazeera broadcasts the killing of an American soldier by an Iraqi sniper – this is something that can happen only in..."
Abderrahim Foukara: "What is the bottom line here?"
Yigal Carmon: "There are laws that forbid all of this."
Abderrahim Foukara: "Are there any laws that say that even if large groups of Arab society want to hear and must hear a certain speech, such as the speeches of Osama Bin Laden... The foreign networks used to take them from Al-Jazeera and broadcast them, and then blame Al-Jazeera for broadcasting Bin Laden's speeches. Is there a law that can forbid certain groups or certain societies from hearing a certain speech and becoming familiar with it?"
Yigal Carmon: "First of all, what the foreign networks, like CNN and others, broadcast was just a few minutes of the speeches, along with a lot of commentary, and not... In the first place, this speech was not directed toward the American public."
Abeer Kayed: "[Carmon] has no credibility. Before the show, he told me about the institute in which he works. When I asked him what kind of media they cover, he said 80% of the Arab media. When I asked him about the Israeli media, he said that they do not cover it and they do not translate it. When I asked why not, he said because it is clear and does not require analysis."
Yigal Carmon: "Because it is translated into English..."
Abeer Kayed: "Let me finish..."
Yigal Carmon: "This is not true. It is a lie. What I said is that materials from the Israeli media appear in English."
Abderrahim Foukara: "Considering what you said about the Israeli media, do you think that Arab groups could, under certain circumstances, be justified in demanding the shutting down of Israeli media outlets?"
Abeer Kayed: "Why not? Hatred of Arabs and Muslims, and the waving of the Israeli flag over churches and mosques... All of it is directed against Islam and the Arabs. It is not only antisemitism. We are Semites. This term is a thing of the past. It cannot serve as an excuse anymore. Everybody talks about it, but what about the Arabs? And what about the image of Islam in the American media, and especially Fox News?"
Neil McCabe: "I think that most of the problems of the media in the Middle East stem from the control of the governments over the freedom of the press. To be honest, I believe that Al-Jazeera is run by the Qatari government."
Abderrahim Foukara: "Alhurra, BBC, and so on are also funded by governments..."
Neil McCabe: "This is also the case regarding BBC and Voice of America. Some people cannot tell whether the media is run professionally, or whether it is an extension of state propaganda, and serves diplomatic purposes."
Yigal Carmon: "Faisal al-Qassem, one of the pillars of Al-Jazeera, said that the Western media is 'Nazi.' I think the situation is as follows: CNN criticizes the White House, but Al-Jazeera does not criticize the Al-Thani family, and does not talk about the imprisonment of [Qatari] poet Ibn Al-Dheeb. The problem is internal and not external."
Abeer Kayed: "In light of the chaos and the political situation in the Middle East, I think that Al-Jazeera is what we have left, at least in terms of credibility. Even if it is not neutral, at least it is credible. As for the attack on the Al-Thani family, I don't think that Al-Jazeera has anything to do with the ruling family. It is a media organization that is independent of the state, except for the fact that it is funded by it."