October 3, 2011

Al Jazeera and U.S. Foreign Policy: What WikiLeaks' U.S. Embassy Cables Reveal about U.S. Pressure and Propaganda

    Monday, October 03, 2011   No comments

by Maximilian C. Forte
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The U.S. Embassy cables published by WikiLeaks present numerous very interesting stories about how Al Jazeera was brought to heel by the U.S. Government.  The U.S. Embassy in Doha, and officials from Washington, used a variety of direct and indirect methods of ensuring a greater degree of compliance on the part of Al Jazeera.  These methods included placing speakers on Al Jazeera news programs; supplying information approved by the U.S. Government; providing U.S. training for Al Jazeera's journalists; demanding editorial distortion of aired programs; securing Al Jazeera's agreement to check first with U.S. officials before airing "sensitive" programs; monitoring of Al Jazeera in minute detail, ranging from its news coverage to its internal structure and policies; lodging complaints with Qatari government ministers; constant, personal visits to Al Jazeera's headquarters; developing familiarity and close personal contacts with Al Jazeera staff; and going over the head of the Managing Director of Al Jazeera to ensure that "objectionable content" was removed and never repeated.


Mainstreaming, professionalism, balance, and objectivity emerge as the chosen tropes for a journalism that favors U.S. foreign policy.  U.S. officials did not overtly threaten Al Jazeera staff, nor did they engage in any crass form of bribery.  The intervention was more polite, prolonged, and intimate.  In the process of reading these cables we learn that, for the U.S. Government, Al Jazeera was valued as a strategic tool, as a credible proxy for U.S. "public diplomacy."  We hear senior Al Jazeera executives describe themselves as "partners" and "assets" of the U.S.  We also learn about the degree to which Al Jazeera is controlled by the Qatari state and used as a foreign policy instrument.  We witness the degree to which Al Jazeera English is almost entirely a foreign import, not even pretending to speak as the "voice of the Arabs" and operating as a colonial transplant.  The picture of Al Jazeera revealed through the cables is a grim one, and it is not likely that Al Jazeera can proceed unscathed.
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