Al-Jazeera ends ties with CNN on airing of bin Laden video

Someone unaffiliated with Qatar network provided Oct. tape

February 02, 2002|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN TELEVISION WRITER

Al-Jazeera has broken off its alliance with CNN, saying the U.S. news channel acted illegally Thursday when it showed a videotaped interview with Osama bin Laden conducted in October by a correspondent for the Qatar-based broadcaster.

CNN broadcast several minutes from the hour-long tape, which the network said it received from someone who works neither for Al-Jazeera nor for any government. According to CNN, Al-Jazeera officials initially denied the interview's existence.

The Arab-language broadcaster reacted angrily. "Al-Jazeera denounces the fact that CNN resorts to such illegal ways to obtain this tape," Mohammed Jassim Al-Ali, the network's director general, said in a statement on CNN.

"Al-Jazeera would have expected CNN to use its judgment and respect its special relationship with Al-Jazeera by not airing material that Al-Jazeera itself chose not to broadcast," Al-Ali said.

Al-Ali said his network would sever its relationship with CNN and would seek legal sanctions against those involved in the tape's distribution. Officials at the channel's headquarters were not available for comment yesterday, a day of rest and prayer for Muslims.

A statement by CNN said it had done nothing illegal and had "the express right to use any and all footage owned or controlled by Al-Jazeera, without limitation."

The rift makes a contentious finale to their alliance. This fall, Al-Jazeera and CNN entered what was to be an exclusive pact, reserving the rights for each other's video footage for six hours after its first broadcast. But on the first day of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, other networks tapped Al-Jazeera's satellite feed, despite the arrangement.

Competing American networks have decided to maintain informal ties to Al-Jazeera. "They have had access to a number of these tapes released by bin Laden and others," said Jeffrey Schneider, a vice president for ABC News. "We felt it was of important news value to share them with our viewers." Officials with CBS and MSNBC similarly said agreements allowing them to share footage would stand.

"We found the story of the tape was more interesting than the tape itself," said Marcy McGinnis, senior vice president for news coverage at CBS. She said CBS' Early Show used a snippet of the interview from CNN yesterday.

Al-Jazeera is considered to be a relatively independent voice among Arab media outlets and includes interviews with Western officials. It has come under serious criticism from U.S. officials and some observers, such as Fouad Ajami of the Johns Hopkins University. They argue the network provides a steady stream of anti-Israeli and anti-American rhetoric.

During the interview aired Thursday night, bin Laden denied to Al-Jazeera's Kabul reporter that his followers have carried out terrorist acts. But, according to the translation, he said later, "So we kill their innocents, and I say it is permissible in Islamic law and logic."

On CNN International, a network seen outside the United States, CNN news chief Eason Jordan expressed his ebbing trust in his former Qatari partner: "Why was the interview not ever televised? Why did Al-Jazeera initially deny the existence of the tape? And what other tape does Al-Jazeera have, or did it have, that had never been acknowledged or televised?"

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