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Wednesday, 10 October, 2001, 13:16 GMT 14:16 UK
TV station defends Bin Laden coverage
Tony Blair with al-Jazeera's Sami Haddad
Interview: Tony Blair with al-Jazeera's Sami Haddad
Arabic television news channel al-Jazeera has defended its policy of giving air time to Osama Bin Laden, saying that it is vital to tell the whole story of America's action against him and his organisation.

The channel's defence of its airing of the tape came as it was revealed that the US government had asked Qatar to rein in the influential and editorially independent Arabic satellite station, which gives air time to anti-American opinions.

What I ask is why do people question the credibility of the channel? Is it because it is in Arabic?

al-Jazeera's Sami Haddad
Some commentators in the UK and America have also questioned the channel's objectivity in interviews, claiming that its interview with British Prime Minister Tony Blair was unbalanced.

But Ahmed Sheikh, the channel's news editor, told the BBC that any news channel which considered itself to be objective would have aired the statements released by Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaeda.

"Osama Bin Laden, like it or not, is a party to this present crisis," he told the BBC.

"If we said that we were not going to allow him the air time, then we would have lost our integrity and objectivity and our coverage of the story would have become unbalanced."

Sami Haddad, the channel's London correspondent who interviewed Mr Blair, said that his interview had been conducted on exactly the same basis as any he would have done during his time as a journalist with the BBC World Service.

"I am BBC-trained and so are many of my colleagues," he said. "When you interview a prime minister who is at war with a Muslim country you must try and give him the other viewpoint and try and pin him down."

Blair interview defended

Mr Haddad said that his line of questioning in the interview was justified because al-Jazeera's audience wanted to know where Mr Blair stood on wider Middle East issues such as Israel.

Osama Bin Laden's statement released to al-Jazeera
Statement: al-Jazeera aired tape
"When we talked about terrorism, Mr Blair said that he was not at war against Muslims or Islam," said Mr Haddad.

"But when I asked about organisations such as Palestinian or Lebanese organisations fighting Israel and whether he considered them to be terrorists or freedom fighters, he started to beat around the bush. He was not very clear."

Mr Haddad said that many people in the channel's audience would consider organisations such as Hezbollah as legitimate groups and that it was essential to understand where Mr Blair stood.

And he added that no comparison could be made between the Blair interview and the channel's airing of the Osama Bin Laden statement.

"The tape of Osama Bin Laden was a statement," said Mr Haddad. "It was not an interview. Had it been an interview we would have given him a hard time."

And he added that al-Jazeera would continue to set its own editorial policy, free from political interference.

"We encourage free and democratic debate on our channel," said Mr Haddad.

"What I ask is why do people question the credibility of the channel? Is it because it is in Arabic?"

See also:

04 Oct 01 | Americas
US urges curb on Arab TV channel
08 Oct 01 | Media reports
Al-Jazeera goes it alone
10 Oct 01 | Middle East
In full: Al-Qaeda statement
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