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MORNINGS WITH PAULA ZAHN

Arab Television Strongly Condemning Israel for Unleashing Fierce Attacks Against Palestinian Targets

Aired December 5, 2001 - 08:32   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Back to issues in the Middle East, Arab television is strongly condemning Israel for unleashing its fiercest attacks against Palestinian targets in 14 months of conflict. The Israeli strikes were in retaliation for a weekend of suicide bombings that left 25 Israelis dead.

CNN's James Martone reports on how the strikes are being reported on Arab TV.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JAMES MARTONE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight's top story in Egypt and across most of the Arab world is Israel's quote ''savage, uncivilized and continued attacks on the Palestinian territories."

RASHA MAGDY, ETV CHANNEL 1: Say it in another word in English. If you want to edit this, what happened yesterday, what you are going to say?

MARTONE: Egyptian television anchor Rasha Magdy says her and her colleagues are describing the reality

MAGDY: The Jewish state continued its aggression against the Palestinian people today...

MARTONE: ... of what is happening in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

NIHAL SAAD, NILE TV: Even the Israeli point of view is not, it's not something that we don't get in our television, because the Israeli point of view I've had the chance to get the Israeli spokesman in Washington D.C. in one of my shows.

MARTONE: News operations say they are unbiased. They covered the suicide bombs against Israelis, but the bombers are not terrorists.

TAGHREED HUSSEIN, NILE TV: They are resistance fighters because they are, I don't think that this is terrorism. It's, in fact, they are trying to defend themselves and defend their homeland.

MARTONE: Across the Arab world, government controlled televisions are dealing with the latest violence in what is often termed ``occupied Palestine''. The Iraqi TV hosted a guest who said, ``The Zionist entity considers all Palestinians terrorists.'' A guest on Syrian TV said the extent of the quote ''Zionist Arab struggle'' forced the U.S. to think of a Palestinian state. Guests more than often reflect the view common in the Arab world, that the Palestinians are the victims.

(on camera): Most of the Arab world's television stations are government controlled and most of the news follows the government line.

(voice-over): Al-Jazeera is considered an exception because it is only funded, but not officially directed, by a Qatari royal family member. Those who can afford the cable channel or watch it for free in cafes say it shows the truth, in other words, that Palestinians are being persecuted. Most Arabic newspapers are under government controls, as well. A leading Egyptian newspaper Tuesday lamented in an editorial that, ''Israel is kindling the desire of a new generation to strike back.''

James Martone, CNN, Cairo.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: So if Arab press coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is pro-Palestinian and coverage of the war anti-American, should Americans be surprised? Is it possible to cover such a conflict without cultural bias? And what does the Arab media know that the U.S. media doesn't?

Well, joining me now from Washington is Hafez Al-Mirazi, Washington bureau chief for Al Jazeera, and from Cairo this morning, Salama Ahmed Salama, senior columnist for "Al-Ahram." Gentlemen, welcome. Thank you for joining us this morning.

SALAMA AHMED SALAMA, "AL-AHRAM": Thank you, Paula.

ZAHN: Mr. Salama, do you feel pressure to write stories that, in fact, support the Egyptian government because if you don't you will be considered anti-patriotic?

SALAMA: That is completely untrue. I do write whatever I think is correct. I don't have any pressure from my government. On the contrary, most of the times I am writing things which doesn't necessarily fit into the political agenda of my government or the political point of view.

ZAHN: So if you write something...

SALAMA: And actually you keep saying...

ZAHN: Carry on, Mr. Salama.

SALAMA: Yes, go ahead, yes.

ZAHN: So if you write something... SALAMA: Yes, I just wanted to...

ZAHN: ... that is perceived by your reading audience as pro- American, does that create problems for you?

SALAMA: Yes? No, not at all. Not at all. I often write things which are pro-American. Some, many times I write critically, criticizing American policies, and it doesn't in any way harm any, I don't get any blame from anybody. I feel free as much as I can.

ZAHN: I wanted to share with our audience a part of a headline that ran in your newspaper referring to the martyrdom of four Palestinians. We're going to put that headline up here in our studios right now. Was there any debate about the use of the word martyrdom and would that indicate in some minds that you were talking about their actions needing to be celebrated in some way?

SALAMA: I think the word martyrdom is making quite problems for you in the West because actually it does mean that somebody is sacrificing hisself for a just cause. That's the meaning of martyrdom. It doesn't mean at all that he is doing something bad. It is sacrificing himself, his soul, his existence to a just cause in which he believes and in which he will be later on forgiven or forgiven by god or given ascension, which will be actually, is satisfactory for god, for him, I mean for god's sake, actually.

ZAHN: So Mr. Salama, in using that headline, then, are you saying that you think suicide bombings against Israelis are a just cause?

SALAMA: I don't necessarily see it in this way. I may be against the kind of -- personally I'm against the kind of suicidal bombings anywhere, whether Israel or in any part of the world. Again, I see it personally. But when I look to this accident, I do look at the causes, at the roots of it. Why would a person, any person, just sacrifice himself, put himself into danger or kill himself? For what reason? There must be a cause which motivates him to do that and I think this cause must be for himself and for his people, something sacred, something of big importance, which makes him, motivates him to do that.

But whether I'll agree with that or not or whether I will do it, I will not do it, of course. But -- and I don't agree with it on the long run.

ZAHN: Mr. Al-Mirzari, I think we could all agree this morning we are products of our culture.

HAFEZ AL-MIRAZI, AL-JAZEERA: Al-Mirazi.

ZAHN: But as you know, your station has been accused of using anti-American language, of running graphics that feature and glorify Osama bin Laden. Even Secretary of State Colin Powell denounced the station when you repeatedly aired Osama bin Laden's statement and Colin Powell said that that was vitriolic, irresponsible kinds of statements. What is your defense to his criticism?

AL-MIRAZI: Well, Secretary Colin Powell gave interviews to Al Jazeera and later also said good words about Al Jazeera, as well as Dr. Condoleezza Rice and other U.S. officials. They respected the credibility of Al Jazeera and the objectivity.

The problem actually is with the American media and the Western media, who instigated the government, and they always instigate against an independent media like Al Jazeera, because they do what the American media cannot do, which is not to mix patriotism with journalism.

We cover a war in Afghanistan by putting both sides of the story, the side coming from Kabul at that time and...

ZAHN: Well, Mr. Al-Mirzari, I have to stop you there...

AL-MIRAZI: It's Al-Mirazi.

ZAHN: I think that charge is blatantly ridiculous.

AL-MIRAZI: Well, I'll tell you what is ridiculous...

ZAHN: I think if you watch the majority of the coverage in this country...

AL-MIRAZI: Paula, what is ridiculous...

ZAHN: We do question the policies of our government.

AL-MIRAZI: Well...

ZAHN: I think we constantly put the leaders of our government on the spot when we question...

AL-MIRAZI: Only on domestic policies.

ZAHN: ... the progress of this campaign.

AL-MIRAZI: Only on domestic policies. But in foreign policy, you are just rubber stamping whatever the government do.

ZAHN: Oh, Mr. Al-Mirzari, you're not being honest at all.

AL-MIRAZI: It's Al-Mirazi.

ZAHN: Look at the debate in this country about the Israeli's retaliatory strikes in...

AL-MIRAZI: OK...

ZAHN: ... in the Middle East. I mean you have read the editorials in this country.

AL-MIRAZI: Paula, let me... ZAHN: You've seen the front page headlines.

AL-MIRAZI: Let me just remind you of the CNN coverage of what happened Saturday night, last Saturday. For two hours, CNN was doing exactly what people were criticizing Al Jazeera of doing, footage of 10 minutes coming out of Jerusalem, terrible footage, of course. Nobody would allow or accept the killing of civilians. But 10 minutes of footage have been kept repeating all over for more than two hours with commentators from your own reporters like Leon and others, and adopting the rhetoric and the argument of the Likud, not only the Israelis or the Labor, but the Likud, and giving a podium for Mr. Netanyahu and all the Israeli right...

ZAHN: I think, sir...

AL-MIRAZI: ... to bash the Arabs.

ZAHN: I have to tell you, I beg to differ with you.

AL-MIRAZI: That is not creative reporting.

ZAHN: I can't say that I watched every minute of our four hours of coverage that night, but I will tell you that as with all news organizations, one would hope that you get on the phone and you try to find differing points of view. We, of course, had Palestinian representation on our air. That is absolutely absurd.

AL-MIRAZI: But you give them a tough time the same way that you are giving me a tough time. Had you had an Israeli journalist with you, you have been pampering him or showering him with praise, very easy softballs. But only the problem with that you get Arabs only to grill them. And this is the problem.

ZAHN: No, sir, that is not true.

AL-MIRAZI: There is no way...

ZAHN: I had the former prime minister...

AL-MIRAZI: Well, you did that with Hanan Ashawari (ph).

ZAHN: ... of Israel on yesterday...

AL-MIRAZI: You did that with Hanan Ashawari.

ZAHN: We also had Mr. Barak on...

AL-MIRAZI: Yes, and...

ZAHN: ... and we asked him the question, why is it Shimon Peres walked out of this meeting when the vote was taken to possibly try to in some way topple the government of Yasser Arafat?

AL-MIRAZI: Exactly...

ZAHN: Shimon Peres, we well reported the story that there is a rift within the Israeli government, that not all Israelis supported...

AL-MIRAZI: OK. You are defending Sharon.

ZAHN: That is absolutely not true.

AL-MIRAZI: You were defending Sharon...

ZAHN: There are...

AL-MIRAZI: You were criticizing the liberal, Paula.

ZAHN: There are people, as you well know, within the Israeli government that do not support these retaliatory strikes. I think our coverage is fair and balanced.

AL-MIRAZI: Wait...

ZAHN: A final thought, sir, this morning on what the goal of Al Jazeera's coverage is.

AL-MIRAZI: The goal is the motto of Al Jazeera, to cover both sides of the story, the view and the other point of view, to make sure that we would have an Israeli journalist or an Israeli official with us in the interview, deal with him with respect the same way we would interview Arabs. And we would also remind people with that word that you called the ancient, Paula, yourself when you interviewed Hanan Ashawari. The word is occupation. And this is the word that we should always remember.

Occupation is an ancient, I agree with you. That shouldn't have been, that shouldn't have stayed in the 21st century and it is the responsibility of credible journalists like you and journalists in the U.S. to remind people that the occupation of the Palestinian land should be ended.

ZAHN: Mr. Al-Mirzari, we're going to leave it there this morning. But I do once again need to remind you in our coverage with various guests we've had representing the Israeli government this week asked questions, as we have over the last couple of weeks, about the settlement issue, which is deeply important to the Palestinians, and also the whole issue of refugees and their potential return if a Palestinian state ends up being created.

So we...

AL-MIRAZI: When was the last time...

ZAHN: Our coverage has been fair...

AL-MIRAZI: Paula, when was the last time...

ZAHN: I've got to leave it there because we are hitting a business news break...

AL-MIRAZI: OK, thank you. ZAHN: ... that is a sponsored segment and someone's got to pay for these conversations, Mr. Al-Mazari and Mr. Salama Salama. Thank you for your time this morning.

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