“It is your TV station both figuratively and literally”
–Mohammed Jacem Al-ali (MJA): Assalamu –alaykum.
Name: Mohammed Jacem Al-ali
DOB: 1954 in Doha
Job title: managing director of Al-Jazeera satellite TV since its inception in 1996 and until the fall of the Saddam regime
–MJA: Hello, hello, good to see you
–Uday: As you can see I’m not wearing a tie today. I am civilian, so to speak.
–MJA: How are you? Fine I hope…How is your health?
–Uday: Fine thank you. (Greeting another guest) Welcome Shamel
What many observers find interesting about Al-Jazeera is that it seems to share with the previous regime in Iraq the same feelings of enmity towards the same parties. The question is: Was this mere coincidence? But if it was so, how can we account for this chance meeting-of-the minds lasting this long, eight years to be precise? The elements of the “coincidence” premise began to crumble immediately following the fall of the regime in Iraq and when the ground started to shake under the feet of Al-Jazeera’s board of directors as news of financial scandals, shady dealings and secret communications with the fallen regime started to emerge.
(On the screen appears a picture of two men with the caption: Faysal Alkacem with Zeid Mohieddine, Station manager of Iraqi intelligence in Doha)
This is what prompted the decision makers at Al-Jazeera to bring a new managing director in an effort to preempt the fallout of the events.
–MJA: Thanks to God our mission here has been successful. Indeed, yesterday we met with the information minister and the commerce minister and we had a succession of other activities which will have, Inshallah, beneficial results for both parties.
–Uday: Good, good, and it’s nice to see you after this relatively long period of time, about a year I think, right?
Commentary by Jalel el-Machta, Iraqi media and politics figure:
Integrity in the media means the ability to report the facts as they are and to allow the reader, the listener or the viewer to accede to as many perspectives as possible of these facts. In other words Integrity requires that we completely divorce the fact, the truth or the news item from the opinion and the commentary. Any overlap of these two aspects constitutes a deliberate effort to slant the news-consumer’s leaning in a particular direction. That is simply unacceptable in a media that seeks to be free, independent, and not the instrument of a propaganda machine.
On March 13, 2000 Uday had a meeting with the managing director of Al-Jazeera in his office at the headquarters of the Iraqi Olympic Committee. This was not the first meeting between the two, as the dialogue seems to suggest, but the follow-up to a previous one that had positive results. Indeed, the directives and advice that Uday seems to have offered during that initial meeting appear to have been implemented resulting in the hiring of new faces by the station such as Ahmed Mansour, or “that lad, Mansour” as Uday refers to him.
–Uday: During your last visit here along with your colleagues we talked about a number of issues and it does appear that you indeed were listening to what I was saying since changes took place and new faces came onboard now such as that lad, Mansour…I’m not sure Mansour who.
Uday started by commenting on an episode of “The opposite direction” news magazine. Then he alluded to what the director of Al-Jazeera, Mohammed Jacem Al-ali had told him on a previous occasion, namely that “Al-Jazeera is your channel” and that therefore “Uday had the right to express his views about it”.
–Uday: Regarding “The opposite direction” well, there was a sort of slight misunderstanding [In English in the original] there. As you may know it was reported to me by some that Mohammed Jacem said “Al-Jazeera is our station both figuratively and literally” as the expression goes, so it is important that I share with you my observations about the station.
Commentary by jalel el-Machata, Iraqi media and politics figure:
The integrity of the media is completely predicated on its independence, so for the media to be independent it has to be free from government and its influence, money and its temptations, tribal and nationalistic affinities etc…In other words the sine qua non prerequisites for the integrity of the media are its independence and its objectivity. Numerous factors, however, can undermine the integrity of the media. First: Money. The media can be said to have integrity if is biased in favor of the funding party.
The visit of Mr. Jacem had one purpose: to listen to the remarks and directives of Uday as evidenced by the following exchange.
–MJA: I am here in fact to relay to you the greetings of Sheikh Hamad bin Thamir, chairman of the board, and who will soon be coming to visit you, God willing. He’s looking forward to meeting you here in Baghdad. As for myself, I am only here to listen to your ideas and register your observations, sir, may Allah prolong your life.
Such exchanges normally take place “in chambers.” On TV, however, when Al-Jazeera invokes the “news coverage” concept, it is clear that the way it covers the news takes into account its allegiances.
Commentary by Jalel el-Machta, Iraqi media and politics figure:
There is another important factor behind the lack of integrity in the media which is ignorance. Indeed, ignorance of what the “facts” mean and ignorance of the ways in which they could be packaged can lead to the undermining of the media’s integrity. There is also, of course, bias grounded in ideology or self-interest. Such bias is illustrated in the way a few Arab satellite TVs report the news, for example: when a car bomb is detonated in front of the green zone some outlets report this news and add “in the close vicinity of the American embassy” which is meant to suggest that the US embassy was the intended target of the operation and therefore it is part of the legitimate resistance to the occupation. However, if one wanted to report this news item objectively one would have to say that this explosion targeted civilian cars and resulted in civilian casualties. Another example: A few days ago we heard about the bombing of a ten-truck convoy that was carrying food. How was the news reported to us? Well, we were told that the bombing occurred indeed but that the convoy “in the estimation of an eyewitness, could possibly be carrying food for the Americans.” This reflects a total lack of integrity and utter disregard for the truth.
Uday gave his directives to the director of Al-Jazeera based on the strong relationship between them and which is as old as the station itself.
–Uday: if I feel comfortable talking to you this way it is because of our three-year-old relationship. But it is true that one can tell the mettle of a human being from his demeanor and the way he walks. This message of course is not meant for you but the other members of the board
Right from the outset Uday wanted to get to the aspects of success and those of failure as soon as possible.
Uday: Mr. Jacem… (Correcting himself) Sorry, Mohammed, if we are to get a grip on the issue as a whole we must agree on an understanding of what success means. Then, defining the objective will become a very easy task. And when that is accomplished we can go back and improve the initial steps that we took at the outset.
Uday’s interest in Al-Jazeera is not confined to the news aspect of the station but reaches also into the managerial side of the operation. In this regard Uday is of the opinion the station’s management has suffered a setback brought about by the board of directors and his opinion things would have been much better had the management been simply left entirely in the hands of Mr. Mohammed Jacem Al-ali.
–Uday: In my personal opinion if all the managerial responsibilities were left to you, just as things were at the inception of the station as opposed to what happened during the subsequent period in which a board of directors was set up and other people were given responsibilities etc, etc…, this station would be enjoying a faster pace of growth right now.
And just as easily as he scolds Al-Jazeera, Uday makes no bones about poking fun at the state of Qatar itself because of its size and the size of its population; hence his understanding of Qatar’s (and Al-Jazeera’s) attempts at walking on many straight ropes at the same time.
Uday: You live in Qatar and you know this but once a Sheikh came to visit from Qatar and I took him to see the “People’s Stadium.” When we got in there he looked at the bleachers and asked about their capacity, 50-thousand I told him and up to 70-thousand if they’re standing tightly, shoulder to shoulder. His reaction was so striking that I shared with the other guys. He said “brother Uday don’t be too hard on us because, you see, our total population could fit into this stadium. So when you see us oscillating from right to left that’s because we are merely trying to hold our balance as we move between tight ropes”
But the director is not saddened in the least by these words; on the contrary he hastens to express his satisfaction and gratitude for the support that Uday has been extending both to him personally and to Al-Jazeera. This support, according to the director, is the real reason behind the station’s success.
–MJA: First of all, sir, I would like to express to you my unequivocal thanks for the precious trust that you put in me so that I was able to play a role at Al-Jazeera, indeed I can even say that without your kind cooperation with us and your support my mission would have failed. My mission at Al-Jazeera is to serve Iraq, the country that has had so much to do with the success of the station. Indeed, in this regard the lion’s share of the credit goes to you personally sir, yet we would be remiss not to mention our colleagues here who constantly strive to implement your directive while they lent us their unremitting.
And maybe this photograph taken in the Presidential palace in Baghdad and featuring Mohammed Jacem Al-ali, director of Al-Jazeera, alongside Abdou H’moud, Saddam’s personal secretary, was meant to serve as a souvenir.
(Footage of Uday on a jet- ski, then calling on his friends to gather for a group picture)