Ali Hashem: In Libya we came to realize we were serving a political agenda putting our journalism aside
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay.
In early March, Ali Hashem, reporter for the Arabic Al Jazeera channel, resigned in protest over Al Jazeera’s coverage of Syria, and also expressed concerns over their coverage of Bahrain. And in part one of our interview, he told the story of the resignation and what some of his concerns were. And he joins us again to continue our discussion. Thanks again for joining us, Ali.
ALI HASHEM, FMR. AL JAZEERA REPORTER (RESIGNED): You’re welcome.
JAY: So just to remind everybody, Ali joins us from Beirut, and he was a reporter for Arabic Al Jazeera. Before that he worked with BBC and Manar TV. So, Ali, let’s pick up our discussion. We had beenâ€”we were just beginning to talk about Libya. How do you assess Al Jazeera’s coverage of Libya, the Libyan conflict?
HASHEM: Actually, I was one of the main reporters in the Libyan conflict. We started the coverage from the beginning of the revolution in Libya, and we were, you know, witnessing the turning points in this revolution, how it wasâ€”you know, how it turned intoâ€”you know, how it was militarized and how the NATO started striking the Gaddafi posts.
And so, regarding Al Jazeera’s coverage, you know, it was supportive of the revolutionists and, you know, certainly anti-Gaddafi. But at that time it wasn’tâ€”things were kind of being experienced one by one. It was a first-time experience at that time. We were, you know, just going into cities along with the rebels, we go into the city along with the rebels, and then it’s kind we go live on air, and it was kind ofâ€”all the concentration was on Libya.
Regarding the coverage, I mean, the journalistic coverage, taking, for example, to the two points of views, actually, that might have been maybe not the same as Al Jazeera used to do before, when it was giving all the, you know, factions and each and every party in any conflict, it was giving them the right amount of time. It was clear that Al Jazeera was adopting the rebels’ stance. It was going strongly behind them so that they, you know, prevail at the end.
Then the Qatariâ€”or here the Qatari agenda was clear. Actually, going day after day, it was clear that the Qataris were really taking it as a personal issue with Gaddafi and they want him to fall, whatever. Certainly this was welcomed by everyone over there, and even outside, because, you know, Gaddafi wasn’t that kind of loved leader for his people, and neither for the countries around him. And at the same time, there were no really strong allies of al-Gaddafi to, you know, defend him in frontâ€”or, you know, facing the Qatari media machine or the Americans or the French, you know, the international coalition that was reallyâ€”that was formed to face the Gaddafi regime.
JAY: How soon after the very first protest that broke out in Benghazi, how soon after that were you there?
HASHEM: I was in Libya by 8 March. That was, like, 20 days. My colleagues were there by 1 March. That was, like, 13 days. So we tried our best to be there as soon as possible.
And we were moving from oneâ€”as I told you, we were moving from city to city with the rebels. You know, we wereâ€”they were discovering some cities with us. You know, they were just, as they say, liberating these cities, and we were along with them, going from each place to another. We entered from Egypt, and we had our own machines with us, SMG’s, you know, those live stream boxes, whatever. So they were all with us, and we were trying our best, you know, in each city or each place we go to to have live coverages from there and make people talk what they had, because those people were there for, like, 42 years, you know, being muted, if it’s [crosstalk]
JAY: Now, some people, a lot of people have compared the Syria situation to the Libya situation in a few ways, but that in Libya, that one take on this issue is is that it began either with peaceful protests that were very early on militarized, again, to some extent, by outside forcesâ€”some people think it was the French or the Americans’ involvement, or some people are suggesting even further, that the whole thing begins in Benghazi as kinds of an external conspiracy of sorts. What did you make of that?
HASHEM: Let me be clear. My own point of view in this regard, regarding even the Syrian, the Libyan, all the revolutions that took place in the Arab world, they’re not set up, you know, they’re not staged revolutions. Those revolutions were becauseâ€”there are reasons for such revolutions. In each country there is a reason. There is a tyrant, there is a dictatorship, there are, you know, regimes that are really very old. And that’s why people are revoluting. It’s not because those people are really being pushed by outside to revolute.
But, you know, peopleâ€”you know, whenever you have enemies, then you should take in consideration that your enemy is going to make use of any revolution against you. So you are not going to expect that enemies of Gaddafi or al-Assad will stay, you know, calm when they’re seeing their enemy falling down or, you know, at least someone who is standing for him. Theyâ€”that is for sure they’re going to support them.
Now, for example, the Occupy Wall Street movement that was going on in the States. But let’s say there’s someoneâ€”any country that really wants to annoy the United States. Wouldn’t they go and support those people against the regime of the United States? It’s just normal.
JAY: Well, actually, we do see that, because Russia Today is very, very supportive of Occupy Wall Street.
HASHEM: So that’s why. You know, that’s normal. It’sâ€”you know, I’ll just say that everyone has the right to do whatever he wants. It’s notâ€”I can’t say that this can’t do that.
But, you know, those revolutions started peacefully. Those people started, you know, went into the streets because they were really oppressed for 40 years or 42 years or 30 years or 35â€”it depends on which country. You know, you’re talking about an Arab world and the pro-American regimes that were really backed by the Americans, American administration. And most of those regimes were dictators. And still you have dictatorships. You have kingdoms like the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which is really doing a lot of oppression for the people. The same for Bahrain. And these regimes are really backed by the United States to the bones.
JAY: Well, let’s justâ€”let’s go back to the beginning days of the Libyan conflict. Do you think, in terms of how quickly the protests became militarizedâ€”. I mean, obviously the threats of Gaddafi are the underlying issue, but did it get militarized more quickly than it might have because of external factors?
HASHEM: Actually, in Libya, the beginning of the revolution and the real start of the revolution is when the rebels, or, let’s say, the activists, at that time, occupied the barracks in Benghazi, and they went inside and took all the weapons. And then it started. Then everyone had weapons and everyone was kind of, you know, fighting from that time.
Soâ€”and then it was clear that everyâ€”the French were really pushing into the militarization of the revolution. Then you have the United Nations Security Council resolution. So it was kind ofâ€”there wasâ€”the international community had a consensus over militarization of the revolution in Libya. And, you know, there was no one saying no. No one wasâ€”except for the Russians, maybe, and then they just stopped saying anything after some time. Even the Turks were having stances that were objecting all kinds of militarization. They were calling for a political accord to be reached and negotiations, whatever. And that was reallyâ€”for those and in Benghazi, that was really provocative for them, and they refused several times to receive Turkish aids and Turkish, even, people who were coming to negotiate with the National Council over there for those political negotiations with Gaddafi. I mean, so they were trying to be different.
So this wasâ€”in Libya it was quick and everyone was doing whatever. But you should take in consideration that Libya is a country different from Syria, as Egypt is different from Tunis.
JAY: The criticism of Al Jazeera really got serious over Libya, and it was particularly when you started toâ€”you know, fairly early onâ€”and a lot of people predicted this right from the beginning, that after the UN resolution and Benghazi, it very quickly turned into, really, agenda of regime change, and Qatar was clearly, you know, one of the leading voices calling for regime change. How did that affect Al Jazeera’s coverage?
HASHEM: For sure. You know. But at the end we were dealt with by the rebels over there as heroes, you know, because we were Al Jazeera that is really owned by Qatar, Qatar, which is taking those stances that are really kind of supportive of the NATO strikes and supportive of the rebels, giving arms to the rebels. So that was really clear that we were doing media warfare.
As for me, I was trying my best, and that was clear on airâ€”that mayâ€”gave me a lot of problems with people on the ground, that I was trying my best to be unbiased and giving the picture as it is. But the problem is, you know, in general the channel was taking this route or this path. And I wouldn’t lie and say I wasn’t happy with that. That was okay. You know, everyone was kind of Gaddafi should fall, and that was normal for anyone. Actually, I wrote that in the newspaper, that, you know, we felt like it’s okay that Gaddafi should fell.
But after that, everyone started, you know, thinking: and soâ€”and after that, what is going to happen? Now that journalism is laid aside, what are we going to do now? Is itâ€”it’s kind of politicization of media, and now we are working for political agendas, rather than working for journalisticâ€”or for, you know, a media outlet.
JAY: Alright. In the next segment of our interview, we’ll talk more about the conflicts in the Middle East, and particularly about Bahrain. Please join us for the next segment of our interview with Ali Hashem.
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