x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 September 2017

BBC correspondent pulls out of Jazeera debate over neutrality

The BBC’s respected security correspondent Frank Gardner pulled out of an event on Monday night in London focused on the television network Al Jazeera after concerns were raised about the neutrality of the debate.

British journalist Frank Gardner. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / JUSTIN TALLIS
British journalist Frank Gardner. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / JUSTIN TALLIS

The BBC’s respected security correspondent Frank Gardner pulled out of an event on Monday night in London focused on the television network Al Jazeera after concerns were raised about the neutrality of the debate.

Gardner, a 22-year veteran of the British broadcaster, had initially been the chair of a panel discussion set to consider potential threats to the future of the Qatari network Al Jazeera at a London-based journalists’ club called the Frontline.

However, just days before the event, the BBC and Gardner recognised the potential conflict of interests in appearing at such a discussion about a different network, and the decision was made for the 55-year-old, who was shot and paralysed from the waist down in Saudi Arabia in 2004 by Al Qaeda sympathisers, to pull out.

A BBC spokesperson confirmed to The National that Gardner would not be appearing at the event, saying  "Unfortunately we are not always able to take part in events we are invited to."

Laura Gane of the Frontline said: “As discussed with Frank and the BBC, they had some reservations in being involved in an event that they weren't in control of, that concerned a debate around another network.

“We therefore decided to go with Safar Al Ahmad, who is a freelance journalist and therefore not affiliated with a news station,” Ms Gane said. Al Ahmad is a Saudi Arabian journalist and filmmaker who worked for PBS and the BBC making films about uprisings in the Middle East including The Fight for Yemen (2015) and Saudi’s Secret Uprising from 2014.

“Because of the sensitivity of this talk, we have turned the discussion into predominately a Q&A discussion whereby members of the audience can ask questions to the panelists, who are at the heart of this controversy.”

The other panellists are Wadah Khanfar, ex director general of the Al Jazeera Media Network; Giles Trendle, managing director of  Al Jazeera English; David Hearst, a former leader writer for The Guardian who now edits online news organisation Middle East Eye, which was also on the Quartet list of pro-Qatari media; and Dr Marc Jones from the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies at Exeter University.