Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large

Royal family member put in charge at Al Jazeera

Wadah Khanfar, the Palestinian-born journalist who had been at the helm of Al Jazeera for eight years, is to be replaced by a member of Qatar's royal family, Sheikh Ahmad bin Jasem bin Muhammad Al Thani.

DOHA // The appointment of a member of Qatar's royal family as the head of Al Jazeera will bring the influential satellite network's coverage more in line with government policy, analysts said yesterday.

Sheikh Ahmad bin Jasem bin Muhammad Al Thani, an executive at Qatargas, was set to replace Wadah Khanfar, the Palestinian-born journalist who had been at the helm of the broadcaster for eight years.

Speculation has grown that Khanfar resigned as director general because a document published by the anti-secrecy organisation WikiLeaks said he was influenced by Washington to alter the network's coverage of the Iraq war.

Khanfar, who announced his resignation on Tuesday, yesterday denied he had ever bowed to editorial pressure from the United States or any other government. There have been numerous - and often contradictory - political attacks against Al Jazeera since its founding in 1996. The network's Arabic channel has been called a "mouthpiece for bin Laden" because of its perceived anti-American bias; it has also been accused of being a front for Mossad, the CIA and Saddam Hussein.

Sheikh Ahmad's appointment was likely to lead to a "repositioning" of Al Jazeera's coverage, said the media commentator Ali Jaber, speaking in his capacity as dean of the Mohammed bin Rashid School for Communication at the American University of Dubai.

"This is a political decision rather than a professional one," Mr Jaber said. "It should indicate a displeasure of the shareholders of Al Jazeera about the political performance of the station lately.

"It will reflect in a clearer way the direct interest of the state of Qatar and the royal family," he said. "It can only change towards a less troublemaking editorial."

The Qatar government is known to fund Al Jazeera's operations but has always been distanced from any overt influence over the network's editorial line.

The appointment of Sheikh Ahmad changes all that, said Mr Jaber. "This is the first time that there is a visible connection between Al Jazeera and the Al Thanis," he said. "They can no longer say that they have nothing to do with the coverage."

Matt Duffy, an assistant professor of journalism at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi, said it was likely that the change of management would mean the Qatari royal family have "even more say" in the operation of Al Jazeera.

"It sends a message that there will be a surer line of communication between the Emir and the management of the station," he said.

However, Mr Duffy said it would be a mistake to assume that Khanfar had not fallen under the influence of the Al Thani family.

In a US diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks on August 30, Khanfar was accused of removing images from the network's website that depicted Iraqi children and a woman wounded in a hospital.

When an American official raised the complaint, Khanfar reportedly sighed and said he would have the piece removed.

"Not immediately," he said, according to WikiLeaks, "because that would be talked about, but over two or three days".

Khanfar, now in his early 40s, yesterday said he was repeatedly asked to tone down coverage and not broadcast Osama bin Laden tapes or videos showing American army forces in Iraq many times over the years. But he denied he had ever caved in to pressure from the US government.

"We have never had a relationship with any government in the world or with any agency in the universe that could dictate on us what to do," he said in an interview with Al Jazeera."

"I would like to say that my resignation has to do with the fact that I have completed my eight years at the management of Al Jazeera and I think that is enough for any leader or manager to give his best and his energy to give his vision," he said.

Employees at Al Jazeera yesterday said they believed Khanfar's plea that he was leaving simply to "move on".

"It would be surprising to me that he would leave because of that," said one employee, referring to the WikiLeaks cable. "No one knew what was coming when he resigned. He was a very charismatic leader and it will be very hard to replace him."

Another long-term employee said the change of management would not have any effect on Al Jazeera's editorial policy and the "boldness of its news coverage".

"Al Jazeera is in need of new management with new vision and dynamism to enable it to face the challenges and reflect the media that young generations in the Arab world and elsewhere are aspiring to," he said. "I guess the new boss, Sheikh Ahmad, fits the profile."

Both employees requested to remain anonymous.

The Doha-based managing editor of Foreign Policy magazine, Blake Hounshell, said on Twitter yesterday that he was "increasingly convinced that @khanfar's departure has nothing to do with WikiLeaks".

The more interesting debate, argued by many, was why the network has selected a member of Qatar's ruling family, with no experience in journalism, to take the leadership.

The move has been seen by some as an attempt to appease native Qataris who were in the minority amid a growing expatriate population.

"A Qatari at the helm will help Al Jazeera provide balanced coverage," said Khaled Al Sayed, the Qatari editor of The Peninsula, an English language newspaper based in Doha.

Khanfar has reportedly been in talks to leave the network for the past six months.

"I heard a lot of people were crying, the Arabic staff," said Omar Chatriwala, a freelance journalist and former Al Jazeera employee. "The English channel's staff were also very sad. This has reignited the question whether this is the end of the Al Jazeera decade."

foreign.desk@thenational.ae

* Ben Flanagan reported from Abu Dhabi

Back to the top

More articles


Editor's Picks

 Iranian President Hassan Rouhani greets supporters after his arrival in Zahedan, the regional capital of Sistan and Baluchestan province on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. During Mr Rouhani's two-day visit, he will tour several other cities and hold meetings with local scholars and entrepreneurs. Maryam Rahmanian for The National

On the road with Hassan Rouhani

Iran's president is touring some of Iran's most underdeveloped provinces. Foreign correspondent Yeganeh Salehi is traveling with him.

 The Doha-based Youssef Al Qaradawi speaks to the crowd as he leads Friday prayers in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt in February, 2011. The outspoken pro-Muslim Brotherhood imam has been critical of the UAE’s policies toward Islamist groups, adding to friction between Qatar and other GCC states. Khalil Hamra / AP Photo

Brotherhood imam skips Doha sermon, but more needed for GCC to reconcile

That Youssef Al Qaradawi did not speak raises hopes that the spat involving Qatar and the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain might be slowly moving towards a resolution.

 Twitter photo of  Abdel Fattah El Sisi on the campaign trail on March 30. Photo courtesy-Twitter/@SisiCampaign

El Sisi rides a bicycle, kicks off social media storm

The photos and video created a huge buzz across social media networks, possibly a marker of a new era for Egypt.

 An Afghan election commission worker carries a ballot box at a vote counting centre in Jalalabad on April 6. A roadside bomb hit a truck carrying full ballot boxes in northern Afghanistan, killing three people a day after the country voted for a successor to President Hamid Karzai. Eight boxes of votes were destroyed in the blast, which came as the three leading candidates voiced concerns about possible fraud. Noorullah Shirzada / AFP Photo

Two pressing questions for Afghanistan’s future president

Once in office, the next Afghan president must move fast to address important questions that will decide the immediate future of the country.

 Friday is UN Mine Awareness Day and Omer Hassan, who does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan, is doing all he can to teach people about the dangers posed by landmines. Louise Redvers for The National

A landmine nearly ended Omer’s life but he now works to end the threat of mines in Iraq

Omer Hassan does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan and only has to show people his mangled leg to underscore the danger of mines. With the world marking UN Mine Awareness Day on Friday, his work is as important as ever as Iraq is one of the most mine-affected countries in the world.

 Supporters of Turkey's ruling AKP cheer as they follow the election's results in front of the party's headquarters in Ankara on March 30. Adem Altan/ AFP Photo

Erdogan critic fears retaliation if he returns to Turkey

Emre Uslu is a staunch critic of Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Now, with a mass crackdown on opposition expected, he is unsure when he can return home.

Events

To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National