Ahmad Bin Jasem to take over as Al Jazeera chief

September 21, 2011
By

Wadah Khanfar

Qatar-based pan-Arab broadcaster Al Jazeera Network on Tuesday reportedly appointed Shaikh Ahmad Bin Jasem Al Thani as its new director general.

He will replace Wadah Khanfar, the Palestinian-born media icon, who said on his Twitter account that he had resigned after eight years of leadership.

“After eight years of service leading Al Jazeera, I have just announced that I am moving on,” Wadah said. “I am currently meeting with staff discussing my decision. I think everyone will agree that Al Jazeera is stronger than ever. Our coverage has been exceptional and is now widely viewed.”

According to Wadah, who was reportedly born in the West Bank town of Jenin in 1969, eight years “is a long time to be leading a network.”

“Renewal and change is always good. I have served Al Jazeera with pride as a correspondent, bureau chief, managing director and director-general,” he wrote.

In a farewell note to Al Jazeera staff published by Al Jazeera English, Wadah who was ranked as one of the most ‘Powerful People in the World’ by Forbesmagazine in 2009, said he had been discussing his decision to step down with the Chairman of the Board for some time.

He said that upon his appointment he spoke with the chairman and they set the goal to establish Al Jazeera as global media leader. In the final discussions, they agreed that this target had been met and that the organisation was in a strong position going forward.

The general director who worked as a correspondent with the network in Africa, Afghanistan and Iraq, said his time in the field had taught him the importance of a free press with the human being at the core of its agenda.

He said that in 1996, “state media was prevalent and was blatantly used for propaganda and misinformation.”

“Within such an environment the public probably doubted that Al Jazeera would fulfill its promise of independent journalism. We managed to pleasantly surprise them by exceeding all expectations. Yet we remained steadfast in our editorial policy – in fact, each attempt to silence us further emboldened us and increased our resolve,” he said, according to Al Jazeera English.

“Al Jazeera gained the trust of its audience through consistently speaking truth to power, and channeling peoples’ aspirations for dignity and freedom. Our audience quickly saw that Al Jazeera was of them and their world – it was not a foreign imposition nor did it seek to impose a partisan agenda. We were trusted to be objective and to be the voice of the voiceless.”

However, Wadah has come under intense pressure recently after a confidential US cable from the US embassy in Doha where Aljazeera is located and published on Wikileaks, claimed that the pan-Arab station general director had agreed to US government request to delete and alter its website content that “disturbs” the US government.

The leaked document about the alleged cooperation between Wadah and the US government was, according to Middle East Online, used by some Qatari officials to exert pressure on him, especially as he had waded into controversy with fellow Palestinian activist Azmi Bishara who was also based in Qatar.

According to the website, Wadah’s departure will be strongly felt by the Muslim Brotherhood who reportedly would lose a powerful media centre that helped them “influence the Arab street through various strategies that included promoting the ideology of the Brotherhood and the incitement of the Arab street.”

Shaikh Ahmad, the new director, is seen as a success model for young Qataris following a series of achievements in the gas sector.

         

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About the author

Born August 3, 1960 in Monastir, Tunisia
Career
Media career:
  • ABC News (Tunisia)
  • Bahrain Tribune
  • Gulf News
  • Bahrain Television News
Teaching career:
  • Monastir (Tunisia)
  • University of Bahrain
Education
  • MA  Mass Communications, University of Leicester
  • BA  in English & US literature and studies, University of Tunis

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