Al-Jazeera All the Time 

Wednesday, Nov 7 2001

Since the September 11 attacks, the station to watch for comprehensive coverage of the Middle East is Al-Jazeera, the Qatar-based, 24-hour Arabic news channel that boasts an estimated 35 million viewers worldwide (including about 150,000 satellite subscribers in the U.S.). The network, whose name means “the island,” has correspondents in 31 countries and exclusive access to Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. Fans of Al-Jazeera praise the network for its unflinching coverage of U.S.-inflicted casualties in Afghanistan and for its extensive reporting on Afghan refugees. Critics say the station has an anti-American, pro-Palestinian slant (Palestinians killed in the Israeli conflict are called shuhada, or martyrs). A few weeks back, Colin Powell asked the emir of Qatar to force the channel to tone down its reporting. The emir refused. Since then, the station has aired an interview with Powell, as well as with Condoleeza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld and Tony Blair.

What follows is a summary of a 90-minute program, called Hasad el-yawm, or Today’s Harvest, that aired on October 31. It was translated by Fayez Hammad, a graduate student at USC.

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The U.S. military carpet-bombs Afghanistan with B-52s. Images of a sky streaked with jet exhaust, followed by clouds of gray smoke rising from a mountainside. Then an interview, in London, with the exiled Afghan minister of education. “We reject this aggression and attack on our poor, impoverished nation,” he says. “They are killing civilians and children in their homes. This is not the way you fight terrorism.”

President Bush emphasizes his determination to continue the war until the end. A spokesman for the U.S. military says the fighting will not stop during Ramadan. He rejects the Taliban charge that U.S. forces are deliberately targeting civilians. In Washington, D.C., a military expert from the Brookings Institute expresses doubts over whether the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan will succeed.

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Turkish forces agree to join the U.S. in Afghanistan. In return, Turkey will receive aid and economic concessions worth $20 billion. The anchor interviews a Turkish journalist by phone, who says that Turkey claimed to be sending the troops solely to help train U.S. forces. The journalist is skeptical: “I think that is more designed to bolster public support.”

For only the second time since the start of the war, the Taliban allows foreign journalists into the country. The report includes soundbites from a press conference with the Taliban foreign minister. “The Americans are accusing us of exaggerating the damage,” he says. “We think it is good for you to see for yourself the civilian causalities -- only don‘t put bombs in your cameras.” A U.S. military spokesman responds, “We are sorry there are civilian casualties, but the responsibility for those deaths ultimately lies with the Taliban itself.”

Leaders of the Taliban criticize the U.N., saying it works for the U.S. and that Americans caused 1,500 causalities in Afghanistan. A U.N. spokesman counters that the sole mission of the U.N. in Afghanistan is to help people in need. The U.N. high commissioner of refugees tells Iran to open its borders, but Iran is already swamped with 2 million refugees. One of the refugees: “We don’t have bread to eat, and they‘re fighting us with airplanes? All because of bin Laden? Go kill bin Laden. Are these the human rights you’re talking about? Bin Laden is an Arab. We have nothing to do with him here.” Pakistan opens its borders on the condition that the U.S. will help with the refugees.

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