Al Jazeera trial: prosecution presents contents of journalists’ hotel rooms

The Guardian reports: The second day of the trial of three al-Jazeera journalists in Egypt descended into farce on Wednesday when prosecutors presented the entire contents of their raided hotel rooms as evidence, and another co-defendant said he did not understand what the trial was about.

Australian ex-BBC correspondent Peter Greste, Canadian-Egyptian ex-CNN journalist Mohamed Fahmy, and local producer Baher Mohamed are among 20 people on trial in Egypt on charges of spreading misinformation and aiding terrorists. The case has sparked international outcry, and been portrayed worldwide as a serious attack on Egyptian press freedom.

But the case took a tragicomic turn when prosecutors presented box after box of everyday items and broadcast equipment as evidence of the defendants’ alleged terrorism – many as innocuous as electric cables, a computer keyboard, and a bumbag belonging to Peter Greste.

At one point judge Mohamed Nagy lost count of the number of cameras he had been shown, and struggled to open two of the suitcases in which the evidence was contained. Throughout the proceedings, two birds trapped inside the courtroom flew overhead. [Continue reading...]

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Egypt’s crackdown on journalism

a13-iconThe New York Times reports: The three men, wearing white prison scrubs in metal cages reserved for criminal suspects, listened to the list of explosive charges accusing them of aiding a plot to undermine Egypt’s national security.

They had links to terrorists, the prosecutors contended, and before their court appearance on Thursday, the men were detained for weeks among prisoners whom the government considers its most dangerous opponents. The charges could bring up to 15 years in prison.

But the three suspects are all seasoned journalists. Their crime was filing news reports for their employer, Al Jazeera English, before state security officers came to the hotel suite they used as a makeshift studio in December, ultimately rounding them up and throwing them in jail.

The charges against the men, branded the “the Marriott cell” by government-friendly news outlets, are the most serious against journalists here in recent memory, rights groups say, part of a widening crackdown by Egypt’s military-backed government that has ensnared scores of reporters, as well as filmmakers, bloggers and academics.

What began months ago with mass arrests and repression of the government’s opponents in the Muslim Brotherhood has steadily broadened into a campaign against perceived critics of all stripes. In all, thousands of people — mostly Islamists, but also some of the best-known activists from the uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak — have been put in jail, many of them still awaiting trial. [Continue reading...]

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Tony Blair backs Egypt’s military and criticises Brotherhood

NewsThe Guardian reports: Tony Blair has given staunch backing to Egypt’s government following a meeting on Wednesday with its army leader, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi.

In a television interview on Thursday morning, Britain’s former prime minister said Mohamed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood had stolen Egypt’s revolution, and the army who deposed him last July had put the country back on the path to democracy.

“This is what I say to my colleagues in the west,” said Blair, visiting Egypt as a representative of the UN, the US, the EU and Russia in their attempts to mediate the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. “The fact is, the Muslim Brotherhood tried to take the country away from its basic values of hope and progress. The army have intervened, at the will of the people, but in order to take the country to the next stage of its development, which should be democratic. We should be supporting the new government in doing that.” [Continue reading...]

The New York Times reports: Egyptian prosecutors said on Wednesday that they were charging 20 journalists working for the Al Jazeera television network with conspiring with a terrorist group and broadcasting false images of “a civil war that raises alarms about the state’s collapse.”

The charges are the latest turn in a widening clampdown on public dissent by the military-backed government that ousted President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood six months ago. The government has outlawed the Brotherhood, declared it a terrorist organization, jailed its leaders and killed more than a thousand of its supporters in the streets. Foreign Ministry and state information service officials say that they cannot be certain whether merely publishing an interview with a Brotherhood representative may now be a crime. [Continue reading...]

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A Canadian journalist is in an Egyptian jail and nobody seems to care

NewsVice reports: If there’s anything that usually galvanizes journalists, it’s the mistreatment of one of their own. But more than a month after an Al Jazeera journalist was arrested in Egypt for “broadcasting false news,” most Canadians are probably still unaware of Mohamed Fahmy’s case.

Fahmy was the acting Cairo bureau chief when he was arrested Dec. 29 along with Australian correspondent Peter Greste and producer Bader Mohammed. Egyptian by birth, Fahmy was raised in Montreal, has previously worked for the New York Times and CNN and is, by any definition, a respected mainstream journalist, not some ink-stained pamphleteer looking for trouble.

So far, neither Prime Minister Stephen Harper nor Foreign Minister John Baird have said a word about the Canadian citizen currently being held in deplorable conditions abroad. Even journalists have largely ignored the case, with only a handful of reports written about Fahmy in the first weeks of his imprisonment.

Prosecutors have yet to formally lay charges against the three journalists and on Jan. 22 their detention was extended by 15 days, which Fahmy’s family says has left them feeling helpless.

“We have contacted the Canadian government and pressured them to take action, hired one of the best lawyers in town, reached out to the media, reached out to the human rights groups, contacted friends working with the Egyptian authorities, etc,” Mohamed’s brother Sherif wrote in an email to me on Monday. “After all this we are back to square one again.” [Continue reading...]

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A letter from Tora prison, Cairo

Peter Greste, one of Al Jazeera’s journalists currently imprisoned in Egypt, writes: I am nervous as I write this. I am in my cold prison cell after my first official exercise session – four glorious hours in the grass yard behind our block and I don’t want that right to be snatched away.

I’ve been locked in my cell 24 hours a day for the past 10 days, allowed out only for visits to the prosecutor for questioning, so the chance for a walk in the weak winter sunshine is precious.

So too are the books on history, Arabic and fiction that my neighbours have passed to me, and the pad and pen I now write with.

I want to cling to these tiny joys and avoid anything that might move the prison authorities to punitively withdraw them. I want to protect them almost as much as I want my freedom back.

That is why I have sought, until now, to fight my imprisonment quietly from within, to make the authorities understand that this is all a terrible mistake, that I’ve been caught in the middle of a political struggle that is not my own. But after 2 weeks in prison it is now clear that this is a dangerous decision. It validates an attack not just on me and my two colleagues but on freedom of speech across Egypt.

All of a sudden, my books seem rather petty. I had been in Cairo only two weeks before interior ministry agents burst through the door of my hotel room, that of my colleague and producer Mohamed Fahmy, and into the home of Al Jazeera’s second producer Baher Mohamed.

We had been doing exactly as any responsible, professional journalist would – recording and trying to make sense of the unfolding events with all the accuracy, fairness and balance that our imperfect trade demands.

Most of the time, it is not a difficult path to walk. But when the Egyptian government declared the Muslim Brotherhood to be “terrorist organisation”, it knocked the middle ground out of the discourse. When the other side, political or otherwise, is a “terrorist”, there is no neutral way. As George W. Bush loved to point out after 9/11, you are either with the government or with the terrorists. So, even talking to them becomes an act of treason, let alone broadcasting their news however benign. [Continue reading...]

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In Egypt journalists are held in detention for practicing journalism

Mada Masr: The public prosecution has accused three journalists working for the Qatar-based satellite channel Al Jazeera English of producing fabricated news with the intent of harming Egypt’s image abroad, reported on Thursday the state-owned Middle East News Agency (MENA).

The journalists were arrested last month after the National Security Apparatus accused them of using two hotel rooms to hold meetings with Muslim Brotherhood members and “broadcast news that harms national security as well as spread false information for Al Jazeera without the approval of relevant authorities,” according to a statement issued by the Ministry of Interior in late December.

The defendants include Mohamed Fahmy, Al Jazeera’s English-language bureau chief, correspondent Peter Greste and producer Baher Mohamed. Fahmy is of Egyptian origin but holds a Canadian passport, while Greste is Australian. Mohamed is an Egyptian.

The prosecution accused the defendants of fabricating news stories that Egypt was going through a civil war to serve the interests of the Muslim Brotherhood group, which was recently designated a banned, terrorist organization in Egypt; as well as inciting the international community against the nation.

The journalists have been charged with possession of wireless communication devices and broadcasting equipment without the required authorization, spreading false news to threaten public security and possession of fake footage they intended to use to harm Egypt’s image and reputation, according to the statement.

The prosecution dismissed allegations that the journalists’ arrest was a violation of freedom of the press, and asserted that the laws regulating media were carefully taken into consideration in the case.

The “prosecution is not concerned with conflicts among different political fractions,” the statement added. [Continue reading...]

Al Jazeera has denied that its journalists detained in Egypt since December 29, 2013, have confessed to the charges levelled against them.

Egypt’s prosecutor’s office said on Thursday that some of the journalists – producers Mohamed Fahmy, Baher Mohamed, and correspondent Peter Greste – confessed to being members of the Muslim Brotherhood, without specifying who.

Muslim Brotherhood was designated as a terrorist organisation by Egypt’s military-led interim government after its leader Mohamed Morsi was deposed on July 3 in a coup.

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Egypt under military rule

An editorial in the Los Angeles Times says: It’s increasingly evident that the military rulers of Egypt are determined to intimidate and silence their political opponents, whether they are members of the Muslim Brotherhood or secular Egyptians who believe the generals are betraying the spirit of the “Arab Spring.” Yet the Obama administration continues to entertain the pious hope that Egypt is on the road to an inclusive democracy.

In recent days the military-backed government has declared the Brotherhood a terrorist organization — blaming it for an attack on a police headquarters for which another group claimed responsibility — and has seized the financial assets of hundreds of Brotherhood activists and other Islamist figures.

But the Brotherhood isn’t the only target. Three leaders of the protests in 2011 that toppled President Hosni Mubarak have been sentenced to three years in prison for violating a law that criminalized street protests. And as part of an attempt to deny opposition groups publicity, authorities arrested four journalists from the satellite channel Al Jazeera English and charged them with “broadcasting false news.” [Continue reading...]

Al Jazeera says: These arrests are part of what Reporters Without Borders has called growing hostility towards journalists in Egypt.

There has also been a campaign against Al Jazeera in particular as the channel’s offices were raided in August and security forces seized equipment which has yet to be returned.

Al Jazeera called on the Egyptian authorities to immediately release all its detained staff unconditionally along with their belongings and equipment.

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Repression deepens in Egypt

Sharif Abdel Kouddous writes: The Abu Zaabal prison complex lies some twenty miles northeast of Cairo, where the dense urban cacophony of the capital quickly gives way to rolling fields, rubbish-strewn canals and small clusters of hastily built red brick buildings. Outside the main gate—a pair of large metal doors flanked by Pharaonic-themed columns—sit four army tanks, their long snouts pointed up and out.

Gehad Khaled, a 20-year-old with an easy laugh and youthful intensity, has been coming to Abu Zaabal on a regular basis for nearly four months to visit her imprisoned husband. Abdullah Al-Shamy was among hundreds rounded up on August 14, the day security forces violently stormed two sit-ins in Cairo and Giza that formed the epicenter of support for the deposed president, Mohamed Morsi, leaving up to 1,000 people dead.

Abdullah was at the Rabaa Al-Adeweya sit-in for work. As a correspondent for the satellite news channel Al Jazeera, the 25-year-old journalist had been stationed at the pro-Morsi encampment for six weeks, becoming a familiar face to the channel’s viewers in one of the summer’s biggest international news stories.

Gehad would visit Abdullah at the sit-in, where he was working around the clock. The two had been married in September 2012, though Abdullah spent little time at home because of regular deployments to countries like Mali, Libya, Ghana and Turkey for Al Jazeera. “The longest period we spent together since we were married was in Rabaa,” she says with a smile.

Now, Gehad sees Abdullah just once every two weeks inside Abu Zaabal, waiting hours each time for a fifteen-minute visit. She brings him food, water, clothes, newspapers, books, toiletries and other necessities to alleviate the austere conditions inside Egypt’s jails. [Continue reading...]

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Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood finds havens abroad

The Washington Post reports: Very few of the leaders of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood escaped the recent military-led crackdown on their movement. Some of those who did flew out of Cairo after paying thousands of dollars in bribes to airport security officials, while others took more convoluted routes, boarding planes in distant airports en route to friendlier nations.

One of those friendly nations is Qatar, the tiny, oil-rich Persian Gulf state that helped bankroll rebels and Islamist democracy advocates throughout the Arab Spring and is now quietly absorbing the exiles that one country’s stumbling experiment in democracy has generated.

Cast out by — or, perhaps, saved from — the harshest political crackdown in recent Egyptian history, a handful of Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist leaders found refuge here in the Qatari capital, while others traveled to Istanbul, London and Geneva.

The exiles’ community is small, disorganized and ideologically diverse, ranging from fairly liberal Islamist politicians to hard-line Salafists — groups that less than two years ago competed against each other in Egypt’s parliamentary and presidential elections.

Now, as they push back against the July coup that toppled their country’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, they are on the same team.

At the same time, an exile leadership is starting to take shape here among the shimmering high-rises of Doha. Several of the exiles are living temporarily in hotel suites paid for by Qatar’s state-run Arabic satellite network Al Jazeera — and it is in those suites and hotel lobbies that the future of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and, more broadly, the strategy and ideology of political Islam in the country may well be charted.

“We are not the kind to escape. We do not prefer exile. We have a task: to communicate the crisis and deliver the message to the world,” said Ehab Shiha, the chairman of the Egyptian Salafist al-Asala party, as he sat in a hotel lobby in Doha. [Continue reading...]

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There’s not much more to it — Al Jazeera America just another CNN clone?

Journalism.org: In its coverage of the Syrian crisis, the fledgling Al Jazeera America cable news channel provided viewers with content that often resembled what Americans saw on other U.S. cable news outlets, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center.

The showdown over Syria’s chemical weapons is the first mega-story to break since Al Jazeera America’s much-publicized launch on Aug. 20. One major question was whether the channel-an offshoot of the Qatar-based Al Jazeera network-would present news largely through a U.S. perspective or provide an alternative, more global, view of events. The findings in this report suggest that if Syrian coverage is any indication, Al Jazeera America is targeting its programming at the domestic U.S. audience its owner has long tried to reach.

The analysis of cable coverage during a crucial week in the Syria story found that in a number of areas-where stories originated, the focus of stories, key messages in stories and the mix of reporting and opinion-Al Jazeera America was largely in sync with its U.S. cable news competitors, most often CNN.

Like CNN, MSNBC and Fox News, Al Jazeera America devoted the biggest chunk of Syria coverage to the debate over whether the U.S. should become militarily involved in the conflict that pits the government of Bashar al-Assad against an array of rebel forces. The most common message conveyed in Al Jazeera’s coverage-that the U.S. should get involved in the conflict-was also the No. 1 message on CNN, MSNBC and Fox News. BBC News America news programming, some of which originates in London, was more of an outlier in its coverage of Syria.

The sources cited most often in coverage by the U.S. cable channels-American politicians and policymakers-were also by far the most frequent in Al Jazeera America’s coverage. And as was the case with CNN, Fox News and MSNBC, the overwhelming majority of Al Jazeera America’s coverage originated from the two main U.S. news hubs-Washington, D.C., and New York City. [Continue reading...]

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Inside look at the internal strife over Al Jazeera America

Glenn Greenwald writes: When Al Jazeera last December purchased Current TV in order to launch its own “Al Jazeera America” (AJAM) network, it seemed clear they had two general options for how the new network’s brand could be built. AJAM could embrace the traditional attributes that has made Al Jazeera, at its best, an intrepid and fearless global news organization: willing to cover stories, air dissident views, and challenge power in ways that many other outlets, especially in the US, are afraid to do. Those excited by the entrance of a new Al Jazeera network into the US marketplace – and I included myself in that group – typically cited the urgent need for such an adversarial, bold and brave approach on the US airways from a large and well-funded TV news organization.

The alternative was that AJAM could try to replicate the inoffensive, neutered, voiceless, pro-US-government model favored by most US news organizations: as a way of appeasing negative perceptions associated with the Al Jazeera brand in the US. Those perceptions in some American precincts – that the network is “anti-American”, “anti-Israel” or even “pro-terrorist”- stem from the network’s coverage of US foreign policy (especially the War on Terror) that has been far more critical (in the best sense of the word) than most US news outlets were willing to be. For years, Bush officials fed this perception by accusing the network of being an anti-American source of terrorist propaganda. The US (accidentally, it claims) attacked al Jazeera bureaus on two occasions, killing its personnel. It even imprisoned an al Jazeera camerman, Sami al-Haj, for six years in Guantanamo without ever charging him with a crime.

Draining al Jazeera of its vibrancy and edginess and turning it into an imitation of CNN would be a way of trying to appease those negative views of the Jazeera brand. The target of such accommodation would be not only the parts of the US public which regard the network with suspicion, but at least as critically, cable carriers and corporate advertisers, whose willingness to be associated with the network is vital to its financial success, as well as US political officials, whom the network wants to appear regularly.

Because AJAM has not launched yet, debates over which course the new network has chosen have been mostly speculative. But one prominent Al Jazeera journalist, Marwan Bishara, the network’s senior political analyst and host of “Empire”, is insistent that the network has chosen the latter course of appeasement, fear and self-neutering.

Earlier this week, Bishara sent a scathing 1,800-word email to multiple Al Jazeera executives, directed particularly at those overseeing the new network. The missive, a copy of which was provided to the Guardian and whose receipt was confirmed by AJAM executives (published here), excoriates network officials for running away from the Jazeera brand due both to “the rush to act out of a personal ambition” and “to appease those who won’t, or don’t necessarily want to be, appeased”. Such a re-branding effort, he wrote, “insult[s] the intelligence of the American people”. [Continue reading...]

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Al Jazeera America has the odour of disaster

Tony Burman writes: American TV journalism loves to reduce the most complicated, nuanced issues into simple, often absurd choices. So, in this spirit of inquiry, let me try this question on you.

Although its debut has already been delayed a few times, the new Al Jazeera America news channel is supposed to launch on U.S. cable and satellite systems in a few months, creating considerable buzz in the American media industry and much anxiety within Al Jazeera, given its immense price tag.

This week, a widely circulated report suggested Al Jazeera intends to ditch its award-winning emphasis on international news and instead try to be “American through and through” to curry public and political favour. According to the story, drawn from interviews with my former colleagues at Al Jazeera: “It will, in other words, operate much like CNN (though the employees say they won’t be as sensational) and Fox News (though they say they won’t be as opinion-driven).” [Continue reading...]

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Al Jazeera roiled by U.S. manager’s decision to censor Joseph Massad article

Electronic Intifada reports: Days after a top Al Jazeera executive ordered the removal of an op-ed critical of Zionism by Joseph Massad, the article was today restored to the network’s English-language website.

Imad Musa, the head of Al Jazeera English Online, also posted a statement on the Editor’s Blog denying that Al Jazeera had “succumbed to various pressures, and censored its own pages” when it removed the article.

The about-face follows a growing uproar inside and outside Al Jazeera over the article’s removal, amid fears for editorial independence and freedom of speech as the Qatar-based network prepares to launch Al Jazeera America.

Musa’s statement claims that “After publication, many questions arose about the article’s content. In addition, the article was deemed to be similar in argument to Massad’s previous column, ‘Zionism, anti-Semitism and colonialism,’ published on these pages in December.”

However, Musa acknowledges that “We should have handled this better, and we have learned lessons that will enable us to maintain the highest standards of journalistic integrity.”

Massad, who has written for the Al Jazeera English website for two years, welcomed the restoration of his article, but expressed disappointment in Al Jazeera’s statement in a response sent to The Electronic Intifada: [Continue reading...]

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Why Al Jazeera’s entry into the U.S. is a good thing

Ishaan Tharoor writes: Let’s get the cynicism out of the way first. Yes, the takeover of Al Gore’s Current TV by Al Jazeera, a pan-Arab broadcaster headquartered in and funded by the Qatari state, is unlikely to send tremors through the current American media landscape. The revamped “Al Jazeera America” channel—and, yes, it will actually be called that—will have a hard time winning its way into the American mainstream. Current TV, after all, is a fringe player with a small viewership. And some U.S. conservatives, like Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly, remain convinced Al Jazeera is anti-American propaganda, a cipher for terrorist-sympathizers and anti-war peaceniks. Others simply doubt the ability of an international news channel to spark interest in the U.S. Writing in the Guardian, American media critic Michael Wolff dismissed Al Jazeera English—the broadcaster’s international challenge to the BBC and CNN—as “so boring that there is no real reason to be hostile to it.”

But there are real reasons to welcome Al Jazeera’s $500 million entry into tens of millions of American households. The main one is that, contrary to what Wolff and O’Reilly think, Al Jazeera English (I’m in less of a position to judge its more controversial Arabic counterpart) is a very good news network. It’s sober, thoughtful and, flush with Qatar’s petro-wealth, capable of devoting resources to stories other major news channels now eschew; few international networks cover Latin America and Africa, let alone the Middle East, with more authority and depth than Al Jazeera. Its journalists hail from some 50 countries, making it one of the most cosmopolitan enterprises in the news business. What Wolff deems “boring” has been praised by other prominent Americans as “real news.” Colin Powell apparently told Al Gore that it’s the only channel he watches. And here’s Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2011:

You may not agree with [Al Jazeera English], but you feel like you’re getting real news around the clock instead of a million commercials and, you know, arguments between talking heads, and the kind of stuff that we do on our news. Which, you know, is not particularly informative to us, let alone foreigners.

Yes, critics are right to point to the network’s paymaster—a government whose political agenda has, at times, directly influenced its coverage. The channel, for example, has been one of the most avid watchers of the Syrian conflict (Qatar is known to be arming and funding factions of the Syrian rebellion), but was relatively quiet about Arab Spring unrest in the nearby Kingdom of Bahrain, a close Gulf state ally of Doha. But mainstream American networks are also susceptible to external political pressures. And while Al Jazeera presents the news sometimes with a discernible bias, it lacks the partisan shrillness of channels glued to the Beltway like MSNBC and Fox News.

In an editorial, the New York Times says: In the Middle East, where good, independent journalism is hard to find, Al Jazeera has distinguished itself by its thorough and smart coverage of many important stories, particularly the Arab Spring. In the early days of the revolution in Egypt, many people in America and around the world turned to it because it did a much better job on the ground than many of its international peers.

Al Jazeera often brings a nuance to international stories that can be lacking on American networks, because it has more foreign correspondents and overseas bureaus than many established Western networks. Its coverage of the Arab Spring won a George Foster Peabody Award and its English-language service is broadcast to more than 250 million homes in 130 countries, including Britain, South Africa and India.

Doubts about the independence of Al Jazeera do not justify removing it from cable and satellite systems. With the exception of a few places, like Washington and New York City, Al Jazeera English is not available to most American viewers. Why not let them make up their own minds about the network and its journalism?

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Time Warner Cable drops Current TV upon sale to Al Jazeera

The launch of Al Jazeera America following AJ’s acquisition of Current TV is good news for Americans who currently depend on the meager offerings from the cable news channels.

Time Warner Cable might have no corporate affiliation with Time Warner, owner of CNN, but its hard not to assume that AJ’s deeper penetration into the market is unwelcome news in many quarters of the industry.

As regular viewers of Al Jazeera English are already aware, the quality of news analysis and overall production standards at AJ are significantly superior to the crass product that has become standard fare on cable news.

The decision to stick with the Al Jazeera brand seems to me both bold and smart. To have adopted a new non-Arabic name would simply have offered new ammunition to those who regard the name as tainted or subversive. Much better will be for the audience to form its own views and discover that the Qatar-based broadcaster, far from posing a threat to America, has the potential to raise the abysmally low standards of American news television.

Huffington Post: Time Warner Cable pulled the plug on Current TV just hours after news of the cable channel’s sale to Al Jazeera became official.

“This channel is no longer available on Time Warner Cable,” read an on-screen message where Current TV used to be found.

Al Jazeera took a major step into the U.S. cable market Wednesday by acquiring beleaguered Current TV and announcing plans for a U.S.-based news network to be called Al Jazeera America. But while the new channel will soon be available in 40 million households, Al Jazeera faced a setback when Time Warner Cable — which reaches 12 million homes — announced it was dropping the low-rated Current, which occupied a spot that could have been switched to Al Jazeera America.

Joel Hyatt, who co-founded Current TV with former Vice President Al Gore, told staff in a Wednesday night memo that Time Warner Cable “did not consent to the sale to Al Jazeera.”

“Consequently, Current will no longer be carried on TWC,” Hyatt wrote. “This is unfortunate, but I am confident that Al Jazeera America will earn significant additional carriage in the months and years ahead.”

A Time Warner Cable spokesman said in a statement that “our agreement with Current will be terminated and we will no longer be carrying the channel.”

Some media observers interpreted the move as motivated by politics.

“Time-Warner cable shows abject political and journalistic cowardice by dropping Current because of Al Jazeera deal,” tweeted Dan Gilmor, a technology writer and founding director of the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship at Arizona State University.

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Al-Jazeera’s political independence questioned amid Qatar intervention

The Guardian reports: Al-Jazeera’s editorial independence has been called into question after its director of news stepped in to ensure a speech made by Qatar’s emir to the UN led its English channel’s coverage of the debate on Syrian intervention.

Journalists had produced a package of the UN debate, topped with excerpts of President Obama’s speech, last Tuesday when a last-minute instruction came from Salah Negm, the Qatar-based news director, who ordered the video to be re-edited to lead with the comments from Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani.

Despite protests from staff that the emir’s comments – a repetition of previous calls for Arab intervention in Syria – were not the most important aspect of the UN debate, the two-minute video was re-edited and Obama’s speech was relegated to the end of the package.

There are hints at staff dissatisfaction within the film, available for viewing on al-Jazeera’s website and YouTube, which notes that the emir “represents one of the smallest countries in the Arab world … but Qatar has been one of the loudest voices condemning Syria”.

The episode left a bitter taste among staff amid complaints that this was the most heavy-handed editorial intervention at the global broadcaster, which has long described itself as operating independent of its Qatari ownership.

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