(AP) BEIRUT, Lebanon – A videotape found in Baghdad after the ouster of Saddam Hussein shows a former manager for Al-Jazeera television thanking one of Saddam’s sons for his support, the newspaper Asharq al-Awsat says.
The London-based Arabic paper, which has ties to an Al-Jazeera rival and has been feuding with the channel, said Sunday that the tape is dated March 13, 2000, and shows former Al-Jazeera manager Mohammed Jassem al-Ali telling Odai Saddam Hussein that “Al-Jazeera is your channel.”
Odai reportedly says “some ideas” he proposed in previous meetings led to “some changes” in Al-Jazeera’s political coverage, including new program hosts.
Al-Jazeera fired al-Ali shortly after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq (news – web sites) in March 2003. No reason was given, but many in the Arab press speculated al-Ali had been receiving support from Saddam’s government.
Jihad Ballout, Al-Jazeera’s spokesman, refused several times to comment without seeing the tape.
But he said it could be part of a campaign against the satellite TV service. “Al-Jazeera has in the past come under pressure from regional and international powers who were not satisfied with the channel’s political coverage,” Ballout told The Associated Press by telephone Monday night from Doha, Qatar.
The privately run Al-Jazeera occasionally runs into problems with authorities in Arab countries. Unlike Arab state media, it often airs the views of opposition figures and their criticisms of rulers. On Sept. 4, Iraq’s interim government shut down Al-Jazeera’s Baghdad operations indefinitely for allegedly inciting violence.
Ballout said Al-Jazeera would not bow to pressure. “Al-Jazeera will continue its clear, transparent and professional media role,” he said.
Asharq al-Awsat, which has recently published a series of reports looking at alleged Al-Jazeera connections to insurgents in Iraq, has close relations with Al-Arabiya, an Arabic television network that says it takes a more moderate approach than Al-Jazeera.
The newspaper said its report was based on a tape it saw from an unaired documentary to be shown by the U.S.-supported Alhurra television station. Mouwafak Harb, Alhurra’s news director in Washington, said a documentary about Odai that includes footage with al-Ali would be broadcast Thursday.
Alhurra — The Free One — was started by the U.S. government to counter Arab satellite channels that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld accused of trying to turn Arabs against America. Harb said Alhurra allowed journalists from Asharq al-Awsat to see the tape, which he said was obtained “through professional means.”
The newspaper story did not say what type of support Al-Jazeera allegedly received from Saddam’s son or give the meeting’s purpose. Odai Hussein, who was killed with his younger brother, Qusai, in a shootout with U.S. troops in July 2003, headed Iraq’s journalist union and owned a TV station.