Stop Press: Al
Jazeera Gets New Manager
By S. Abdallah Schleifer
As of the last week of
October 2003, Al Jazeera has a new manager. And the choice, former Baghdad bureau
chief and correspondent Waddah Khanfar, is significant.
During the Iraqi war,
he reported from Kurdish-controlled territory in the north; with the collapse
of the Baath regime, Khanfar took over the Baghdad bureau. At that time relations
between the Coalition Provisional Authority and the Iraqi former opposition political
formations that would soon assume ministerial responsibilities as the Interim
Governing Council (IGC), were difficult. Although an Al Jazeera correspondent
had been embedded with coalition forces and the channel was represented at the
Coalition's Central Command headquarters, nevertheless the Channel was widely
perceived as playing to popular pro-Baathist and anti-Coalition Arab sentiment
in its coverage of the war.
Al Jazeera editor-in-chief
Ibrahim Helal told TBS that Khanfar not only brings exceptional journalistic skills
to his new assignment but also was very successful in re-establishing the Al Jazeera
bureau in Baghdad following the fall of the Baathist regime.
according to Helal, included improving a working relationship with the American
authorities and with the pre-war Iraqi opposition. In the latter case, the strains
in the relationship predate the war and were reflected in denunciations of Al
Jazeera by Ahmed Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress, who circulated
documents which he claimed incriminated individuals within Al Jazeera for allegedly
having clandestine relations with Iraqi intelligence and the Iraqi Ministry of
Information (see the Interview
with Adnan Sharif in this issue).
"Waddah and I have worked
closely together through these crises and despite problems, we now have many avenues
of access to both the Coalition and the former Iraqi opposition participating
in or supporting the IGC," said Helal.
During the War in Afghanistan
and its aftermath, Khanfar played a similar role. He reported on Afghanistan from
New Delhi, where there was a strong Northern Alliance diplomatic presence since
India was a major supporter of the Northern Alliance long before the American
intervention. This was an important posting since Al Jazeera was unable to get
its own correspondent back into the northern territories controlled by the Northern
Alliance on the eve of the war and had to rely on its alliance with CNN for reports
along with satellite interviews originating in Doha with then Northern Alliance
foreign minister Abdallah Abdallah at his headquarters.
When the Taliban regime
began to collapse and the Northern Alliance forces swept into Kabul, Al Jazeera's
presence in the Afghan capital in 2001 was bedeviled by problems remarkably similar
to those that prevailed in Baghdad in April 2003. The Kabul bureau had been hit
by US fire and Al Jazeera's correspondent and Kabul bureau chief Taysir Allouni
had been compromised in the eyes of many journalists and diplomats, not to mention
the Northern Alliance, as a partisan of the Taliban cause. Khanfar took over the
Kabul bureau and restored working relations with the new authorities. TBS
is TBS publisher and senior editor.