Dear National Public Radio (NPR) News,
The Al-Jazira bashing on NPR reached new heights this morning when Liane Hansen interviewed British journalist Peter Knightly for Weekend Edition Sunday. Knightly strongly criticized UK and US government restrictions on the reporting of the war in Afghanistan, and complained that we were reduced to relying on what "Al Jazira" is prepared to give us, and that Al-Jazira footage should be presented to viewers only "with a health warning" as the network is "parti pris" in the conflict. Is Mr. Knightly suggesting that the people writhing in agony with obvious and horrifying wounds on their bodies are faking it? Is he suggesting that Al-Jazira's correspondent destroyed an entire neighborhood yesterday in order to make a point?
I cannot believe that Mr. Knightly could actually have watched Al-Jazira before making such ignorant comments. If he had he would realize that Al-Jazira's correspondent in Kabul, and indeed all the Al-Jazira reporters are extremely cautious and skeptical in their reporting. When they report on claims of civilian victims they do so with all the caveats, and present what is known and not known quite clearly. The correspondent in Kabul is clearly risking his life to get this information out as can be readily seen when he stands on the roof of the Al-Jazira office in Kabul and reports live on bombing raids nearby.
All of the footage I have seen on Al-Jazira has been shown in long or unedited segments. This contrasts with US networks who have either not shown the Al-Jazira footage of civilians injured by the US bombing, or show no more than about two or three seconds while reading Pentagon press releases over it. The rest of the time what we get from the US networks is anthrax, anthrax, promotional videos for US weapons systems narrated by former generals and then more anthrax.
On Al-Jazira you get both the Pentagon version of events as well as live and frequent reports from Kabul. Al-Jazira carries Pentagon and White house briefings live, and has apparently been begging, to no avail, for US officials to interview directly. Last week Al-Jazira broadcast a long, unedited interview with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
The contrast between the war propaganda being fed to us by US netowrks on the one hand and Al-Jazira's coverage on the other could not be more clear. The charge that Al-Jazira is taking sides a serious slur against the professional reputation of other journalists and one that Mr. Knightly ought to be called on to support with specific examples or to withdraw.
There is a thinly disguised racist element in Mr. Knightly's view that only "western" journalists can be trusted to bring us the truth. I think there is also a large measure of jealousy in many of these criticisms of Al-Jazira mostly from people who have never watched it and don't even speak Arabic, and a residual unwillingness to take seriously a non-western media organization that has been doing a very professional job. Mr. Knightly is clearly part of the problem he purports to be complaining about.
Al-Jazira is filling an enormous vacuum in coverage of this conflict, not only in terms of reporting events, but in the range of voices included in its analysis. Knightly ought to be thankful that at least one network is doing its job well.