WikiLeaks: al-Jazeera 'used as bargaining tool by Qatar'
Al-Jazeera, the Arabic news channel, is being used as a "bargaining tool" by Qatar to further its position internationally, US embassy cables released by WikiLeaks claim.
The Doha-based broadcaster’s coverage is crafted to exert or relieve pressure on other countries in order to suit Qatar’s diplomatic agenda, the dispatches suggest.
Joseph LeBaron, the US ambassador to Qatar, reported to Washington in November last year that the channel could be used "as a bargaining tool to repair relationships with other countries, particularly those soured by al-Jazeera's broadcasts, including the United States".
In another cable that July, he claimed that the channel "has proved itself a useful tool for the station's political masters".
A few months earlier, the US embassy noted that "relations [between Qatar and Saudi Arabia] are generally improving after Qatar toned down criticism of the Saudi royal family on al-Jazeera".
The claims contradict al-Jazeera’s insistence that it is editorially independent despite being heavily subsidised by the Gulf state. Since its launch in 1996, it has become the most watched satellite television station in the Middle East.
They could also tarnish the reputation of Qatar, which last week succeeded in its bid to host the 2022 World Cup football tournament.
According to dispatches published by The Guardian, LeBaron, reported in one cable that the Qatari prime minister Hamad Bin Jassim Al Thani had joked in an interview that it might be best to sell Al-Jazeera because of the problems it had caused Qatar.
"Such statements must not be taken at face value,” LeBaron wrote. "Despite GOQ protestations to the contrary, Al Jazeera remains one of Qatar's most valuable political and diplomatic tools."
Nobody from Al-Jazeera was available for comment last night.