Friday, November 18, 2011

Aljazeera English approaching bbc's John Simpson

Well informed sources told us that AJE is approaching bbc's all time senior international correspondent John Simpson to head the Qatari channel's reporting teams and produce and present a weekly program from the field.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Murder and stolen passports?

By Clayton Swisher in Middle East on February 17th, 2010

Could the passports used by the alleged killers of Hamas operative Mahmoud al-Mabhouh be a key piece of forensic evidence?

Update : It is not clear whether this was passport or identity theft. The 7 dual Israeli citizens claim their passports were never stolen or "lent" to anyone else.

As I earlier blogged, the passports used by the alleged killers of Hamas operative Mahmoud al-Mabhouh would be a key piece of forensic evidence. I must first admit some bias in my thinking as I got some experience investigating passport fraud in my first three years out of college.

In training we were taught the passport was Holy Grail. The ultimate identity document, a passport proves you are a lawful citizen of the country stamped on the booklets jacket, entitled to full protections, privileges, and bilateral treaties between the traveler's home and the country being visited.

Press reports are now hinting that a group of unsuspecting Israelis with dual citizenship had their identities hijacked to carry out the state's dirty business.

Operating on the assumption that the UK, Ireland, Germany and France did not give those passports to Mossad (or whomever did it) for intelligence purposes, it's already clear to me that a couple of people dropped the ball.

If any of the 11 passports were stolen, the victims may have erred. They had a duty to inform their respective Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) that their passport were gone. They would have typically been asked to make a sworn statement providing any available details (when it was lost, circumstances, copies of a local police report, etc.)

MFA investigators would then in theory register the lost/stolen passport numbers into Interpol's database, which has an estimated 11 million passports reported. That would render the missing documents expired while at the same time flag it for suspected fraud.

This could be either contributory negligence on the part of the "victims" who had their documents taken (by failing to report it), or by the States in question who failed to pass that information along to Interpol. This presumes, of course, the "victims" did not "donate" the books to their governments for intelligence purposes, which can never be ruled out.

Had the above described steps been followed, the Dubai immigration officer on duty who swiped the traveler's documents would have noted the passports were not supposed to be in use, and saw a flag on his/her computer reading "contact Interpol," which in turn would notify investigators from the relevant country MFA.

The computerized exchange would go something like this: "Hey, someone is at our airport using a passport reported as stolen--what should we do?" A duty officer or investigator from the country in question would be contacted.

Whether immigration agents take this step can be the difference between whether or not they've had a cup of coffee, but in most cases they do. Airport officials would then invite the suspected fraudsters into secondary for a long and fun interview.

Had all those steps been missed, the last measure would be the careful examination of the document being presented.

Swapping photos on a passport is not so commonly used anymore since most passports bear flat, digitally printed photos bearing holograms. It also presumes that forged booklets were not used, which is a more difficult and risky undertaking, but not impossible. There are millions of printed pages made for passports that are in theory controlled items. But it would not be impossible to find a corrupted employee to donate the pages to a foreign intelligence service.

Most countries adopted tougher fraud reducing measures following the September 11th attacks, which required countries to move to machine readable passports. But there are still plenty of old school booklets in circulation. I suspect low-security passports (that were still valid) were sought after by whoever intended to carry out the crimes.

In most countries, gone are the days of old where photos are supplied by passport applicants so they can be laminated by a machine inside these traveling booklets.

A professional counterfeiter, however, the kind one would expect to be employed by a first-world intelligence agency, would make it hard to detect a photo swap as they are able to unseal lamination in ways that conceal the fact it had been tampered with.

Who knows why these steps were missed. Maybe there was a long line and a bunch of screaming kids standing at the counter.

But I do find revealing my conversation a few days ago with an Irish Ministry of Foreign Affairs official. I contacted him on background to see whether UAE police had notified them of the possibility that their passports were misused.

This individual told me that no one from the UAE police had requested their help. In fact, the official told me, the Irish actually took the step of contacting the Dubai police out of their own concern over media reports that Irish documents had been used.

If Mossad was involved, as they have been in other attacks against Hamas outside its border, the Israeli citizens who may have had their identities stolen would have little recourse against their own government.

No government speaks on intelligence matters, including Israel, and it will be mighty difficult for them to prove that they had been victims of passport or identity theft without looking like a crackpot.

Tough luck for those folks if they were not involved. They may want to skip Dubai on their next vacation abroad till it all gets sorted.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Al Jazeera breaks outside the box

As the first Arab broadcaster to become a global brand, Al Jazeera has become synonymous with its original medium, satellite television.
So it was significant that there were no satellite boxes in sight earlier this month, when the network’s top brass gathered in Dubai to launch Al Jazeera’s first series of globally distributed DVDs. Instead, there were clusters of iPod-wearing teenagers and briefcase-bearing businessmen browsing the shelves of the Virgin Megastore in Mall of the Emirates, where Al Jazeera’s newest offering is now on sale. Yes, Al Jazeera – broadcaster of Osama bin Laden videos, famously contrarian champion of “the opinion and the other opinion” – has entered the retail DVD business.

“It’s the first time for this sort of retail, and it’s part of the mission to broaden our audience reach and increase the knowledge of the brand,” says Al Anstey, the director of media development. “Obviously the retail market gives us a chance to be seen in a different form that will give our existing audience the ability to choose as and when they want to view, and obviously it does give us the opportunity to reach new viewers.”

In particular, the retail platform will give Al Jazeera a chance to reach viewers in the large and lucrative US market, which both the Arabic and the English channels have so far failed to crack with a national distribution deal. Although a landmark local cable deal in Washington DC last year gave Al Jazeera English the opportunity to access the airwaves of a major metropolitan area for the first time, and last year it won approval from Canadian regulators for satellite distribution there, the broadcaster still lacks the US distribution deal that would make it commercially viable.

In the past few years, the network has sought wider viewership through a popular YouTube channel and its own digital channels, but the retail option opens up another vista.

Although the four DVD documentaries, produced in Arabic and English on topics ranging from the 1948 Palestinian catastrophe to the biography of the founder of Hamas, will initially be sold only at retail stores in the Middle East, the network’s Dubai-based distribution partner, Viva Entertainment, plans to roll out sales in American and European stores in coming months. More importantly, the documentaries are now available through online stores, including

Al Jazeera’s adoption of this model of content distribution comes just as the network faces renewed resistance to its satellite programming closer to home.
Last month, Arab ministers of information met in Cairo to discuss a joint proposal by the Egyptian and Saudi governments to create a regional office to regulate Arab satellite TV stations.
The proposal was partly a response to a bill passed by the US House of Representatives in December calling for restrictions against broadcasters deemed hostile to the US.

But it was also a continuation of a proposal drafted by the Arab League in 2008, which stipulated that satellite TV channels “should not damage social harmony, national unity, public order or traditional values”. At the time, the Al Jazeera director general Wadah Khanfar slammed the proposal, saying it “contains very general and ambiguous statements that could be used at any time to close a channel down or take it off the air”.

The fears that followed that proposal have largely subsided, as the Arab League does not have legislative or executive power. Nonetheless, the media rights group Reporters Without Borders issued a warning last month against the revival of this proposal to create what it deemed a “super police” to censor Arab satellite TV.

“It seems that Riyadh and Cairo hope to ride a current that supports the reaffirmation of traditional values,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The main TV stations targeted by the proposal are Al Jazeera, the Hamas station Al-Aqsa TV and the Hizbollah station Al-Manar.”

Dr Abdul Aziz al Horr, the director of Al Jazeera’s corporate development bureau, declined to comment directly on the outcome of the latest meeting of the ministers of information last month.

“I don’t want to go into the conspiracy theory and the speculation of this act [by the ministers of information], but hopefully Al Jazeera and all the other channels who really stand for freedom of speech, for transferring the facts and the truth to the people, will not be harmed by these acts,” he said. “We will continue our way of doing things. We stand for the opinion and the other opinion. We are an international network appealing to the world, standing for transparency and credibility.”

Al Jazeera officials are hoping that more platforms for distribution will help erode some of the prejudices against the station in the US and parts of the Arab region.

“The States has got a very large audience base, and it’s got a lot of people who would really like to see us,” Mr Anstey said. “Because of the various issues and challenges that we have faced in order to penetrate that market, we are still an unknown quantity. But the more we are known, the more that we will be welcomed.”

Thursday, March 05, 2009

The Fourth Al Jazeera Forum

As the political and social landscape of the Middle East continues to become more complex in the context of a changing multi-polar world there is a need for media to better understand the realities on the ground.Al Jazeera’s Fourth Annual Forum will explore the dynamism behind these changes along with their impact on the region and beyond, and examine the ways in which the world of journalism can better reflect and report on these changes.
The 2009 Forum will build on the success of past Al Jazeera Forums to debate, discuss, and extend the discourse on the critical dynamics of the Middle East in the context of the globalized world. We will host an international mix of journalists, analysts, academics, and intellectuals to help bring these issues into focus as well as leading thinkers and strategists to explore and understand the changing face of the region, its place in the global landscape, and how to report it in depth.

Monday, March 02, 2009

AJE Under Financial crisis

The Qatari based channel seems to be under financial crisis amid ending the contracts of number of its journalists.
According to well informed sources in the network, the board of directors called on the english news channel to bring down its expences around 30% and made it clear there is no budget available for new recruits.
Its not known wether these dramatic events will affect the channel's ambitions to lead the market specially after the success it gained around the globe amid the Gaza war earlier in january.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Gaza, African coverage and tonight’s RTS awards - breakfast table chat with Al Jazeera

This morning Al Jazeera English’s managing director, Tony Burman, held a breakfast meeting in London and invited journalists along to ask about latest developments at the channel.
Burman is in town for tonight’s Royal Television Society Awards (2007/8), for which the channel has been nominated for the ‘News Channel of the Year’ award - and it’s up against BBC and Sky.
Burman was, however, not overly optimistic and said that he thought it would be the BBC’s win. However, “next year will be the Gaza year and we will be here again,” he told the group. We’ll report back with an update tomorrow.
Burman’s message was clear: the channel is increasingly strengthening its reputation (that includes within the US, he said) and he emphasised that the fact it broadcasts to nearly 140 million households, after two years on air (it launched in November 2006) was a feat he considered very impressive. Getting Al Jazeera onto the satellite and cable networks in North America is a priority, he said.
The real topic of the morning was the crisis in Gaza: the two correspondents, Ayman Mohyeldin and Sherine Tadros, who had been on the ground prior, and during the 22 day conflict were also there to answer questions.
It was again confirmed that Al Jazeera English was the only English-language broadcaster to report from the Gaza strip before the press ban was lifted (see a previous interview with the channel’s head of new media, Mohamed Nanabnay).
So, here a few of the things that were discussed. will be following up in more detail on these and other points raised, in due course.
Tony Burman said that ‘coverage was really very comprehensive’ and that the reaction to the channel’s output ‘was a reminder that there is a hunger in the world, to get a sense of what is going on’.
The Al Jazeera site had, at times, seen a 600 per cent increase in traffic during Gaza coverage, he said.
Because Israeli, as well as other international media couldn’t access the area either during parts of the conflict, Al Jazeera was watched by a bigger Israeli audience too, he said.
Sherine Tadros, who said it was just ‘chance’ that she ended up reporting from the ground (she is normally the Jerusalem correspondent) said that ‘everything was a risk’. ‘There was no green zone,’ she added. She ‘wasn’t meant to be there’ she joked.
Tadros was asked to go and do a feature from the region before the media clamp-down became apparent, and she hadn’t even packed clothes to take, thinking that her stay would be brief.
To be the only English channel on the ground could be a ‘one-off experience’ during her career, she said. While she thrived on being part of the only English-language media team on the ground - ‘everything we did was exclusive’ - Tadros was aware of the responsibility to cover as much as possible for an English speaking audience.
There was no way they could go away and ‘Google’ for additional information, for example, she said. All the information from the ground had to be gathered by themselves directly. While Tadros said she was already quite familiar with the region, she also had to adapt very quickly to the surroundings and context, she said.
Ayman Mohyeldin described how other international broadcasters were eager to use their material and how he did then feed back to US networks. One of the main differences between the Arabic and English coverage was the level of detail in the reports, he said.
Reports can’t assume context for an English-language audience, whereas an Arab audience has grown up very aware of 60 years of history, he said. As a result, English coverage must supply more detail and background. So while the English and Arabic channels worked closely via multimedia channels (there is a joint new media team) and shared information and sources in their newsrooms, the output can vary.
The style of English reporting is also different, Tadros added. Whereas an Arabic channel might do one hour of footage inside a hospital, that wouldn’t be something they would necessarily do on the English channel.
Expanding into Africa:
With a good presence in Nairobi, Zimbabwe and Johannesburg they’re keen to meet the needs of a ‘growing’ African audience, Burman said.
In regards to whether a full bureau would be opening in Nairobi (to add to bureaux in Washington, Doha, London and Kuala Lumpur), Burman was hesitant. In the current economic climate he ‘can’t talk about expansion,’ he said. For now, little is being said about big investments he explained, adding that Africa is a very important region for them and more correspondents would be added around the continent.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Put Al Jazeera on air

Feb 23, 2009 04:30 AM

Canadians have a world of cable and satellite TV information at their fingertips. There's the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., CTV and Global. The American networks including CNN and Fox. The British Broadcasting Corp. Even TV5 from France.
So why not a major news source from the Middle East? Al Jazeera television, funded chiefly by the pro-American Emir of Qatar, is the most respected broadcaster in the Arab world. Its English service, managed by Canadian journalist Tony Burman, is received in 130 million households in 105 countries, including Israel. But not here.
Yet every Canadian has an interest in a region into which we have poured peacekeepers and aid, which millions of Christians, Muslims and Jews revere as the holy land, and which is a perennial political flashpoint. There's an abiding thirst for news and views from there.
Al Jazeera English, with its unique perspective from the developing world, delivers the goods. During the fighting in Gaza, for example, AJE was the only international English service that covered both Gaza and Israel. It routinely airs Israeli views.
For these reasons, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission should approve AJE's current bid to air programs here, as its parent Arabic service does in the U.S.
Five years ago Al Jazeera Arabic, founded in 1996, sought approval to broadcast here. At the time the Canadian Jewish Congress criticized it for airing material that was anti-Semitic, denied the Holocaust, and exalted terrorists. Even so, the CRTC gave it the green light, but with so many conditions that cable companies chose not to air it.
The English service, launched in 2006, has sparked no comparable controversy. So the CRTC has good reason to grant approval on a trial basis, subject to review, but this time without onerous conditions.
AJE's code of ethics promises credible, honest, balanced coverage. Canadians should be able to see and judge for themselves.

A former Denver newsman on why America should give Al-Jazeera English a chance

By Michael Roberts in More Messages
Wednesday, Feb. 25 2009 @ 9:33AM
"New Gig," an October 2005 Message column, introduced readers to Gabriel Elizondo, who decided to leave his job as an assignment editor at Channel 7 in favor of an opportunity to join Al-Jazeera International, a new English-language spinoff of the controversial Arabic network. Over three years later, the operation is still struggling to establish itself in the U.S., as noted in a National Public Radio story about the service, now called Al-Jazeera English, that was broadcast this week. The report opens with the story of correspondent Josh Rushing, who wasn't exactly welcomed by locals when he set up camp at a Golden watering hole around the time of last fall's Democratic National Convention. "We reported live from the bar, but it meant having police snipers on top of the buildings, undercover cops around me," Rushing recalled.
For his part, Elizondo has been based in Sao Paulo, Brazil, for the past two years -- and he continues to see Al-Jazeera English as a worthy and credible news organization that's been unfairly demonized in the American press. The net is attempting to change its reputation via a website called, which provides viewers with an opportunity to sample its fare and to demand that it be made more widely available. Elizondo is fully supportive of this goal, as he makes clear in a wide-ranging e-mail update accessible below. Also included: two complete reports from Elizondo, reporting in recent weeks from Brazil and Venezuela.
Click "Continue" to get the scoop on Al-Jazeera English from an enthusiastic insider.
What have I been up to?
I have been based in Sao Paulo, Brazil for AJE for a little over 2 years now. In August of 07, I was in Lima, Peru editing a documentary when a huge earthquake hit Peru. It was immediately an international story. I started reporting on-air, and continued reporting from Peru for several days. Within 24 hours, I was live from the epicenter of the quake in the town of Pisco. After this terrible event, I returned to Sao Paulo and have pretty much been reporting ever since. I mostly cover Brazil. It's a huge country (about as big as the US) and an important country (largest economy in Latin America), so I am on the road a lot. I spend a lot of time in the Amazon region of Brazil, and recently did a series of stories from the Amazon related to our coverage of the World Social Forum, which was held in Belem, Brazil last month. One of the stories can be seen here:
I was in Venezuela for the constitutional referendum Feb 15. So far this year, I have spent only about 6 days in Sao Paulo. Next week (March 1-7), I go back to Peru for several stories, and then to Doha, Qatar for some training before coming back to Sao Paulo.
Lack of availability in the U.S.A.
When I left Denver, in late 2004, to move to Washington DC to work for Al Jazeera English a lot of people told me it could turn out to be career suicide. It's been just the opposite for me. The channel has developed into one of the premier English language news channels in the world. The channel is received in over 120 million homes around the world. It's too bad most people in the U.S. still do not have that ability. People in places like Denver, Colorado should not be obligated to watch Al Jazeera English, but Coloradoans should at least have the freedom to watch Al Jazeera English on their television. Every time I go to the U.S., I flip through the channels and I am amazed at all the junk on cable TV. The bad, mind-numbing television outnumbers the good programming 3 to 1. There are endless channels devoted to home improvement and reality TV. Those channels are fine, too. But being able to watch AJE's serious journalism from underreported corners of the globe is still not available, which is sad given all the space on cable devoted to other arenas I would deem less important to understanding issues around the world that affect the U.S.
AJE Continues to Grow
I am very fortunate right now, because as media organizations cut back on global newsgathering, AJE continues to show a commitment to expansion and covering important stories around the world. This is not lost on me. Now, more than ever, it's critical that people see AJE. Just to give you an example, on Feb. 15, Venezuela held a constitutional referendum that would allow Hugo Chavez the ability to run for office again. Given the strained relations between Venezuela and the U.S.A., I would think this would be an important story for people in the U.S. But Venezuela is an expensive country to do journalism. But that did not stop AJE. My bosses wanted to show in-depth coverage that went beyond the soundbites. So we had one correspondent in Caracas and another one (myself) far outside of Caracas in a different state reporting for an entire week. There were two producers from Washington DC, two cameramen, and even a web editor from reporting for the web site from Venezuela.
One of my Venezuela reports can be seen here:
This is just one example, of many, of the coverage AJE provides.
I look back at that story you wrote in 2005 and there was a lot of unspoken speculation about what Al Jazeera English "wanted" to be, or what it "strived" to be. That was to be expected, as at the time it was an unproven entity. But that is no longer the case. There are over 7,000 videos uploaded to the AJE You Tube page and hundreds of articles on our web site. My friends who travel abroad a lot often e-mail me saying stuff like, "Hey, when I was in XYZ country, I got AJE on the TV and saw your story about this or that." The rest of the world is watching. If I was living in Colorado right now, I would be asking myself, "Why can't I?"

Finally! Some national love for Al Jazeera English

You know I've gone on (and on) about the English-language channel from the Arabic news giant al-Jazeera for more than two years. I did a big blowout on it in the summer of '07 and was thrilled when it started streaming 24/7 on Livestation, where I monitored its unparalleled coverage of the Gaza situation.
Today my buddy David Folkenflik at NPR devoted a segment on "Morning Edition" to a story about AJE, prompted by an awareness campaign the channel has been running to get people to call their cable or satellite operators and yell, "I Want My AJE!" (Besides featuring yours truly in a couple of places on that website, I notice they use a picture of the Kansas City Royals' John Buck at Yankee Stadium trying to tag out Robbie Cano. Thanks for the shout-out, guys!)
As nice as all the media attention is, I'm not sure it's enough, though. Here's why.
Back in 1996, I reported a story for the New York Times about the fledgling new channel from Rupert Murdoch called Fox News, as part of a wider profile of cable news channels. (Now there's a fun memory -- especially the part where then-private citizen Michael Bloomberg buttonholed publisher Arthur Sulzberger at a party and demanded to know why his Bloomberg TV hadn't been included in the profile ... which led to a nervous phone call to me from my editor ... to which I replied, "Well, Jane, because you didn't ask me to do a profile of business news channels." A story devoted to Bloomberg and CNBC soon appeared in the Times.)
And it was while reporting that piece that I learned Murdoch had done the reverse of what a cable programmer normally does. In the usual scheme of things, a cable operator pays a programmer for the right to carry its channels. Murdoch paid the operators to put his Fox News Channel on their systems. He reportedly made a one-time payment of as much as $7 per subscriber, which would work out to more than $2 million to get Fox News on in Kansas City alone.
Murdoch wasn't alone in paying for placement; as I wrote in a subsequent piece for the Times, the people running HGTV did the same at that channel's launch. The subscribers did the rest. Within a year I was hearing from readers out in the boonies wondering when the liberal media was going to let them have their Fox News. Soon cable operators not so fortunate to have Murdoch showering money on them were negotiating with him to carry his channel. Needless to say, the money train was no longer going in reverse by then.
I've thought about that story when considering Al Jazeera English. The emir of Qatar has spent a lot of money to get that channel on the air. AJE has doubled its coverage in the past two years and now reaches nearly 140 million homes worldwide. But almost none in the U.S. and Canada. Two exceptions are Toledo and Burlington, Vermont, and I think it speaks damningly to the nature of corporate-owned media in this country that the two cable systems in the U.S. that carry Al Jazeera English are locally owned and operated. (Some inside-the-Beltway locales also get AJE piped in -- notably the Pentagon.)
Tony Burman, the new chief of AJE, is determined to overcome this, and other than dispensing the occasional insult about the audience he's trying to woo, seems to be doing the right things. He replaced some of the British executives whose stereotypes about Americans caused its highest-profile anchor, Dave Marash, to quit in protest. He launched the IWantAJE website and media campaign to speak to the corporate cable media in a fashion they understand.
But I think he may still have to pay to play. The world news TV market is a stubbornly slow-growth market here in the U.S. It's not just AJE struggling for carriage; BBC World and France 24 would like to be carried coast to coast, but they just can't get corporate cable operators interested. And let's face it: Money is tight in that business right now. So I would encourage him -- and will when I talk to him in an interview -- to bring this matter up with the emir and see if he can't shake loose a few mil to get AJE in some big-city markets, even if only on digital cable.
It's a good channel. And no matter what the Israelis say, their spokesmen are fixtures on AJE, and more importantly -- it's carried all over Israel! People there watch it. Would that Americans watched this channel that they seem to already know so much about.