• October 25, 2006
  • 49 minutes read

Interview With Waddah Khanfar, Al-Jazeera General Manager

Interview With Waddah Khanfar, Al-Jazeera General Manager

Waddah Khanfr is a name which is unknown for many people, but they- unknowingly- follow up him in a way or another .. !!


Waddah, who is almost 40 years old and of Palestinian origin, is the general manager of Al-Jazeera Satellite Network, the greatest Arab media organization. He assumed his position at the helm of al Jazeera in March of 2006.

He worked as a correspondent for the channel in South Africa, then moved to Afghanistan then Iraq and later established Al-Jazeera office in Baghdad, where he was the first Arab journalist to meet with the US administrator in Iraq, Bremer .


What is the nature of Aljazeera’s relationship with the Qatari government?

Aljazeera was originally a Qatari-funded initiative, and Qatar is still paying and funding a key portion of Aljazeera . . . Qatar helps Al Jazzera financially in every possible mean; but Aljazeera on the other hand does not represent the State of Qatar or its foreign policy . . . there a distance between the newsroom and its written independence, and the Qatari government whose stances are based on the interests of the Qatari country; we as a television institution and a professional media channel do not see ourselves as part of any political regime in Qatar or outside it.


(interrupting)…. Does the Qatari government intervene in the channel’s policy?!

There is no intervention in the channel’s policy; the editorial policy of the channel is supervised by a 7-member council, including myself-the general manager, and Mr. Ahmed Al Sheikh, the editor-in-chief, and Mr. Aref Al Gawi the programs manager, Mr. Gamil Aazr, Mr. Mohamed Krishan, Mr. Ayman Gaballah the deputy editor-in-chief. These are Aljazeera’s editorial board members, who make the editorial decisions and set policies.


 The Qatari government pays the biggest part of the channel’s budget… What does Qatar benefit then?!

Qatar benefitted many things from Aljazeera; a good reputation in Arab and international arenas since it is hosting one of the most important media organizations in the world, which adds to Qatar’s status and increases its international influence.


Now the channel faces huge pressures from Western and Arab governments. The government of Qatar bears consequently the burden of these pressures, for how long you think can the Qatari government withstand such pressure?!

(laughing)… I’d like you to ask them this question, because I am not a spokesman for the Qatari government, but I think what Qatar has done so far is trying to give Aljazeera the independence and the appropiate climate to do its work professionally . . . I think that Qatar hasn’t exercised any pressure on AlJazeera to make it change its stances or its policy; I hope this will remain in the future.


What is the worst expected scenario if the Qatari government gets really angry one day at the channel?!

I hope that it won’t get angry… ( he laughs ), but I think that Aljazeera with its media and its professional weight and the huge number viewers it all over the world, is now occupying a great position among Qataris in particular and among Arabs and world in general; so, I do not expect such a scenario to happen in such a way.


It has been reported that AlJazeera doesn’t criticize Qatar and the US base, in return for Qatari government’s allowing the channel to work in Qatar?!

Actually, I’d like to know from those who are asking this question; what exactly they expect Aljazeera to do?! to criticize the presence of US military base in Qatar?! We are not primarily here to attack anyone . . .  the channel is only trying  to report news. We deal with the issue of the presence of a military base in Qatar like we deal with the presence of US military bases in the Gulf in general. We do not take an editorial attitude towards a specific issue…we report the news and allow Arab and international thinkers to express their opinions, and some of those who appeared on Aljazeera screen spoke about military bases in Gulf including Qatar; so, I do not see at all that Aljazeera favors anyone in this issue.


As for the Qatari affairs . . . Aljazeera covered all the demonstrations that took place in Qatar, and gave a chance to all political parties and oppositions figures to appear on Aljazeera [to discuss their views]. Aljazeera is not hypocrite when it comes to Qater’s officials, its Amir or others. It doesn’t try to follow up their visits, moves, meetings and celebrations, but it deals with them in a professional way .


The channel’s relation with the Arab regimes is always tense, while it is allowed to work inside Israel; for example, there are no offices for the channel in Saudi Arabia and Algeria… and …?!

-(Interrupting) .. I think that- unfortunately- the narrow-mindedness that controls some ruling regimes in our Arab world has led to a culture of domination and dictatorship that sees only in the ruler’s tongue a platform for the expression of opinion; therefore- unfortunately- these societies or countries are still suffering from this complex; This will not be useful for them .


Because the problem is in the regimes that block information, is that they push people forcibly to other substitutes which are mostly not vocational. Therefore, if they allowed Aljazeera to work, they will be to give people an objective, professional and unbiased alternative, which is so much better than resorting to  rumours and accusations which are not originally found. 


As for Israel, frankly speaking, Israel has a specific methodology in dealing with the media; Israel allows us to work, but for example whenever it [Israel] felt during the last war on Lebanon that there is something that it doesn’t want people to know, it would restrict the media from getting to certain places and hold specific information.


 Concerning the channel’s coverage of the last Israeli war on Lebanon, wasn’t it biased, or at least different from the method that Aljazeera always used to follow?!

No, the coverage was objective and unbiased . . . our correspondents were distributed on both sides . . . it was perhaps the the only channel in the world that did that. So, it was a distinguished and balanced coverage  


Is there a tense relation between AlJazeera and the Egyptian government?!

I do not think so. We do not have any tense relations with the Egyptian government, we have an effective office in Egypt which is sending news from all viewpoints, whether from the government or the opposition… The opinion and the other’s opinion.

Sometimes, this method may anger some people in Egypt, whether the opposition or the government, and they express their anger either through sending a direct criticism, specific statements or protest messages to the channel


Do the Nasserists control Aljazeera’s office in Egypt?

As a matter of fact, Aljazeera does not discriminate against its employees based on their ideological views or politcial affiliations. We believe that anyone at Aljazeera whatever his/her ideological background is part of this institution, and carries a single ID which is the identity of a professional media . . . We believe in the freedom of thought in any field, and in general, any  correspondent, journalist or employee of Aljazeera, must abide by the charter of honour, and the rules of professionalism which govern our work, without allowing themselves to be a mouthpiece for any specific ideology. In addition, we have a quality control department that monitors the screen continuously to ensure that all views are presented in an objective and balanced manner 


We are still speaking about Cairo office, you said in an interview dated March 2004 with Al Arabi newspaper that there are plans for expanding Cairo office to include studios and programs to be broadcast from Cairo, what has been done so far in this project?!

In fact, we are now doing the expansion and to move the office to a bigger building with better studios; and I think the number of guests speaking from Egypt will increased accordingly in many programs.

We already have a weekly program aired from Cairo, “with Heikal” who is an important Egyptian and Arab figure, which- I think- is useful for us and for our viewers to listen to. In addition, we recently covered many events in Egypt with more capacity, and gave a considerable time in our bulletins and various programs to talk about the Egyptian affairs.


 The channel is sometimes accused of being a platform for Arab Islamists and nationalists and most of the channel’s staff have Islamic and national affiliations, comment on this?!

 This is untrue. The channel includes professional journalists from more than 22 nationalities across the Arab world with cultural, intellectual, and political spectrum, but- as I told you- they express professionalism in dealing with the media .


As for the presence pf the Islamic affair, I think that the nature of events in the region in general may lead to focusing on certain persons, ideologies or political movements.


If you speak about Iraqi, Lebanese, Palestinian, Egyptian or other affairs, you will find many Islamic movements [are making the news]. so speaking about them isn’t actually a bias towards this movement, but it is an interaction with a situation created by necessities. 


Mr. Waddah, you have and Islamic background, specifically Muslim Brotherhood, don’t you think that this is conflicting with your position as a head of the biggest Arab media organization now?

In fact, I do not classify myself as belonging to a certain political ideological movement, this is firstly an important issue which is very ..


(interrupting) ..Or you were belonging ..

I think that firstly I belong to this Nation including its collective legacy and mind, and that this something I value and am keen on it, but I tell you clearly and frankly, Aljazeera taught us always that our affiliation to Aljazeera- as an administration or press- is an affiliation to an institution with deep-rooted rules and with a clear identity based primarily on proficiency and respecting the opinion and the other opinion, and it isn’t absolutely based on differentiating between people on ideological, intellectual or party bases.


You prepare for publishing a daily newsletter in Morocco and expanding your office there, is this related to the nearing elections in Morocco or is it an attempt to push ahead or support a specific group in these elections?!

This is related only to one thing: our viewers in Morocco in the west of Arab world, they are so many, and they want us to give them a media service which is closer to their reality, given that Aljazeera was viewed in Moroccoas east-oriented; focusing on eastern events; therefore, we wanted this to be a daily window .


Also, it is not directed to Morocco only, but it is directed to other neighbouring countries like Mauritania, Algeria and Tunisia, and perhaps Arab communities in Europe  


 What are the activities that you will carry out to mark Aljazeera’s tenth anniversary?!

In fact there is a package of activities: there is book that explains Aljazeera’s experience, with a contribution by some staff members in the channel and some Arab journalists and intellectuals. We will also inaugurate an exhibition and a museum for Al-Jazeera, and we will erect a memorabilia of the free journalist at the channel’s entrance, and there are also… (he stops talking)..

(interrupting) there are what?

No ..There are things which will not declare for now .


Are they related for example to expanding the institution or adding more programs or what?!

Yes, the institution will be wider and broader, accompanied by a change in the programs round, starting from next February .


Why was launching Aljazeera English delayed?!

There are some technical problems, the studio for example is still being constructed. Aljazeera English will be the first Arab channel to use HD technology in its broadcasting; also, it will be broadcast from four countries, Doha, Kuala Lumpur, London and Washington, consequently making the work harder and creating some technical obstacles that we try to bypass, God willing; but we will launch the channel perhaps later this year .


Although Khadiga Bin Qanna is a veiled anchor on Aljazeera screen, there some reports mentioned that new veiled women aren’t chosen to work in the channel, comment on this?

The veil is a personal affair, and the presence of discrimination against veiled women is not right; these are completely false rumors. When Khadiga decided to wear the veil, she came to me and was very afraid that I may refuse, but I informed her that the veil is a personal affair and we do not object to her appearing veiled, and she was surprised. At Aljazeera, we deal only with professionalism; if a veiled announcer applied for a job to join the channel and she has the required skills, we will not turn her down .


Has Aljazeera become a state within a state when it hosted a conference for Somali groups?!

This conference was hosted by Aljazeera center for studies which has a full freedom to do its role for research and intellectual and political meetings .