for articles in this issue.
Dahr Jamail is an independent
journalist stationed in Iraq. Mr. Jamail submits his work to
various publications around the world, and also has a web site at http://dahrjamailiraq.com
Interview with Samir Khader, Program Editor for
On 1 February 2006 in
Doha, Qatar, Dahr Jamail interviewed Samir Khader, Program Editor for Al-Jazeera
Channel. Mr. Khader was a key personality in the highly acclaimed documentary
“Control Room” about Al-Jazeera.
How does Jazeera continue to operate amidst the
leaked memo to bomb Jazeera, banned from countries in the Middle East, and in
this increasingly hostile environment?
Samir Khader: Do
you think that because of such a memo we have to stop working? Of course we
can’t. We have to do our job. If the memo was true and George Bush wanted to
bomb Jazeera, what can we do? They can do that, and the whole world will know.
It’s not because a journalist is threatened that he will not do his job. So, no
problem for us.
DJ: How do you operate in countries where you’ve been prohibited from
working, like Iran and Iraq?
SK: As you know,
Al-Jazeera has a history of being kicked out from many countries. It’s not new
for us. But at the end, these governments reverse their decision and allow us to
work. Because at the end, they can’t hide behind masks. They have to tell the
truth one day. And one day they discover that we are telling the truth, whether
it’s with them or against them. When they kick us out of a given country, they
deprive themselves from a means to answer all the accusations made. For example,
if we make accusations at a given country of doing this and this and
we’re kicked out, they have no means of answering these accusations.
realize it is better to have Jazeera with them, under their eyes, so they can
use it and use it as a podium also because we are open to everybody. Whether it
is opponents or governments, we give the possibility to anyone to express
himself or herself. So denying access to al-Jazeera in their own country will in
the end be at their own expense.
DJ: Which countries right now have prohibited Jazeera from
operating in them?
SK: Iraq, Iran,
Saudi Arabia, Algeria. These countries completely prohibit al-Jazeera, 100%.
There are other countries who don’t allow us to have a correspondent or to work
on a regular basis, but allow us sometimes, for major events, to send a reporter
for a couple of days only, then he shall have to leave the country. For example,
India and Tunisia. These are important countries where we can only operate on
the spot, but not on a regular basis.
Kuwait was one of these countries,
but at the end they realized it was better to have al-Jazeera with them, so they
allowed us to work there.
DJ: Did Jazeera receive an apology or explanation for the
leaked Bush/Blair memo?
SK: No. Our
manager explained that yesterday in his press conference. He explained the whole
story. The official spokesman of the British government said there was nothing
in that memo that referred to al-Jazeera and Tony Blair also said that at the
House of Commons. But in answering other enquiries
from British nationals, the same spokesman recognized that this document, this
memo exists and there is a reference to al-Jazeera. So there is a contradiction
in their own statements. All we want as a channel is to know the truth. Was it
true or not?
So, we’re trying. We didn’t
receive an answer yet, but we’re trying.
DJ: What are al-Jazeera’s greatest challenges
Personal opinion of course.
The problems of the Middle East,
problems of the people. Like democracy and human rights. In all the countries of
the Middle East everybody talks about democracy. And when you have elections in
one given country, the government starts saying, “Look at our democracy!” But
elections are not democracy. Democracy is something else.
I think that we have to focus more
on the needs of our people in these times in terms of democracy and human
rights. To tell them, “Don’t believe that elections mean democracy. No, it is
something else.” And human rights, I don’t think that there is one single Arab
country that really respects human rights. Freedom of the press? Where is it? I
don’t see it-freedom of the press. We might enjoy it at al-Jazeera, but we are
only a tiny part of the press in the Arab world. So all these things, I think we
should focus on them more and more.
What are Jazeera’s future
SK: We have plans
to continue to cover Pakistan, Afghanistan, India or South America. Also we
should cover them because we are an international channel. But we have a
priority. We are an Arab Channel and we have to address our Arab populations.
And I think the management has plans to focus more on these
I spent two weeks in Fallujah in
April ’04. I then went to the “Green Zone” and went two times to press
conferences of General Kimmitt where he asked Iraqis and Arabs to change the
channel. I did an interview with him and I asked, “General…you’re not supposed
to be afraid of us. We’re here everyday with you. Why did you ask people to
change the channel?” He said, “Look, you do your job and I’ll do mine.” (he
laughs) It amazes me that the Americans complain about al-Jazeera. When I was,
at that time in 2004, in the field in Iraq, I didn’t feel that the Americans
used to look at al-Jazeera as the enemy.
I used to hear Donald Rumsfeld
attacking al-Jazeera, depicted (it) as the enemy. But on the field, no. I used
to look at and try to socialize with the simple American soldiers. These are
poor guys! Most of them, they don’t know what they are doing in Iraq. They were
told to go there for many reasons. Some want a scholarship, others want
citizenship, any other reason. Some, because they are patriots. They are
patriots, of course, all of the American
soldiers. But they told them they had a job to do-to topple Saddam Hussein, to
occupy Iraq, they did the job. And then what? To become the police? It’s not the
role of an army to do the policing in a country, in a vast country like Iraq.
So, this is a big problem for the Americans.
If I was in the shoes of George W.
Bush I don’t know what I would do. As an Arab I will tell him to get out of
Iraq. But if I were an American and a high ranking official in that
administration, I don’t know. He’s really in a very bad
Would you like to comment on the current state
has changed much in the last years. Can you imagine, if Bob Woodward and (Carl)
Bernstein, were to uncover Watergate today? Would they be able to do it? Because
today, now, they tell you, “What’s your source?” You have to uncover your
source, otherwise you go to jail. And this happened with Judith Miller. Which
means that journalists no longer have the ability to do their
I tried to meet with Bob Woodward
last May when I was in Washington D.C. I went to Washington and N.Y. and tried
to meet with him just to ask him this question: If you had similar information,
inside information like that which led to Watergate, would you be able to
publish it? I’m sure of the answer, but I couldn’t find him.
(c)2006 Dahr Jamail.
All images and text are
protected by United States and international copyright law. If you would like to
reprint Dahr's Dispatches on the web, you need to include this copyright notice
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copying and printing requires the permission of Dahr Jamail. Of course, feel
free to forward Dahr's dispatches via email. This
interview is herein re-published with the author's
Posted February 19, 2006
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