Guy W. Farmer: Gannett gives Al Jazeera a home under auspices of ‘press freedom’
Regular readers of this column know that I’ve nominated former Vice President Al Gore for my prestigious Hypocrite of the Year Award for selling his failed Current TV network to Al Jazeera, a Middle East TV network owned and operated by the government of the oil-rich kingdom of Qatar (pronounced “Cutter” or “Gutter”).
So the same Al Gore, who claims to be the environmental savior of the world, collected some $400 million from one of the biggest polluters in the world. Awash in petro-dollars, Gore now can upgrade his huge mansion in Tennessee and fly around the world in his private jet. Nice work if you can get it.
And now the giant Gannett media conglomerate, which publishes the Reno Gazette-Journal, has enmeshed itself in Gore’s tangled web by allowing Al Jazeera America to broadcast out of its “Newseum” headquarters in Arlington, Va.
Writing in the neoconservative Weekly Standard, Claudia Rosett of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies revealed that “When it goes live later this year … (Al Jazeera’s) flagship prime time show, ‘America Tonight,’ will be broadcast from a studio in Washington’s Newseum, a high-tech museum of news and journalism with the self-described mission of ‘educating the public about the value of a free press in a free society.’”
What’s wrong with this picture?
Well, as a government broadcaster, Al Jazeera has little to do with freedom of the press. Ms. Rosett calls Qatar “a Middle East monarchy long on oil money and short on freedom.” According to the 2012 State Department Human Rights Report, Qatar has no independent broadcast media and all print media are owned by “members of the ruling family or proprietors who enjoy close ties to government officials.” And Gannett plans to present this operation as an exercise in press freedom.
So why would Gannett buy into such a misleading scheme? For starters, we can assume that Al Jazeera is paying a lot of money to broadcast from the Newseum. But when Ms. Rosett called to inquire about financial arrangements between Al Jazeera and Gannett, “It turned out that officials of this institution dedicated to reporting would not answer such questions …” Or, as a Newseum spokesman put it, “Free speech includes the right to not answer questions.”
Not only won’t the Newseum answer questions about Al Jazeera, but the news museum recently included in its memorial to fallen journalists the names of two men killed in Gaza last year while working under the auspices of Al Aqsa Television, which has been blacklisted by the U.S. Treasury Department since 2010 because “it’s financed and controlled by Hamas,” a Palestinian terrorist organization.
Treasury noted that Al Aqsa “airs programs and music videos designed to recruit children to become … suicide bombers upon reaching adulthood.”
Although the Newseum removed the names of the Al Aqsa “reporters” from its online roster of fallen journalists, their names remain etched on the memorial wall alongside that of American journalist Daniel Pearl, who was slaughtered by violent Islamic terrorists. Nearby is a quote from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “The men and women of this memorial are truly democracy’s heroes.” Not!
Ms. Rosett concluded as follows: “Honoring dead Hamas terrorists is the kind of gesture that might please the Emir of Qatar, who last October traveled to Gaza to honor the living leaders of Hamas by promising them $400 million in aid. But it seems a strange way of educating the public in the value of a free press.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Guy W. Farmer has worked in and around journalism for more than 50 years.