I wrote this article a few weeks after the death of Ali Hassan Al-Jaber, and similar to its Arabic “counterpart”, it failed to find its way in the English-speaking press (you can imagine why).
I published it on my website because the National Human Rights Committee (NHRC) in Qatar was hosting an international conference on the protection of journalists in cooperation with Aljazeera Network.
It was the time for the infamous Network to provide us with the much-needed answers!
Death of a Cameraman
On Saturday, 12th March 2011, a mercenary for the Libyan leader Muammar Al-Qaddafi shot dead Ali Hassan Al-Jaber, a cameraman for Aljazeera Network. His cause of death was three bullets to the back whilst in a car with Aljazeera Arabic crew heading to the rebel held city of Benghazi. Al-Jaber was rightfully termed a martyr with a studio named after him to commemorate his memory.
Now, the following question may seem foolish, but I believe an investigation into this particular death is necessary:
WHO KILLED MR AL-JABER?
To find out who committed this horrendous crime, Aljazeera needs to answer three fundamental questions.
First, WHAT TRAINING DID MR AL-JABER RECEIVE BEFORE HIS MISSION, IF ANY?
A journalist requires specific training to survive hostile environments; such training has become a tradition within international news agencies as a prerequisite for covering any military conflict. For Aljazeera, whose news coverage is chiefly about wars and armed tensions, it is an essential. A response like, ‘he covered wars before’, will not suffice; surviving a war without proper training does not deem one an expert, merely lucky.
This brings me to the second question: HOW DOES ALJAZEERA MANAGE ITS CREWS IN WARZONES?
Of course, the crew on the ground is responsible for taking care of themselves. The question, however, is on the kind of demands placed on them in terms of their safety. It is common for journalists to take risks and go to extreme measures to gather information (or seek fame); nevertheless, does this alleviate any channel from its responsibility towards their wellbeing?
News agencies always look for exclusivity, sometimes sought after at any price; but what is more important for Aljazeera: the crew’s safety or news exclusivity? If the answer is the former, then the Network, sadly, has a funny way of showing it.
Adding to this, the mere fact when a crewmember gets injured or even, God forbid, dies, the publicity the channel gains; a publicity that adds to its credibility as the “truth seeker”, whilst relieving those in charge of any responsibility simply because the deceased is a “Martyr” – an honourable death that should not be questioned.
The third and vital question: WHAT PROTECTION DID MR AL-JABER HAVE PRIOR TO HIS DEATH?
None of Aljazeera Arabic crew wore any bulletproof vests or helmets, as was evident during its coverage of the Libyan revolution. If no soldier should fight without gear, then no journalist should report without one.
I wonder how serious Aljazeera is when it comes to providing its employees with the much-needed protection when it demands of them to obtain good coverage. Naming news studios after martyrs could be a sign of “loyalty” but should this “loyalty” not show prior to their deaths as well?
What is astonishing, Aljazeera English crews had the proper gear from the beginning of the events whereas the Arabic outlet from the same Network did not. One of Aljazeera English correspondents informed me two professional armed bodyguards for crews’ protection – belonging to a prominent company in Britain – accompanied him.
Providing such protection for Aljazeera English crews in comparison to what Aljazeera Arabic crews had, indicates predilections between the two Aljazeera outlets apropos nationalities and ethnicities. Had the deceased been a Westerner, the matter will go beyond naming a studio after him. Indubitably, an investigation into Aljazeera’s accountability for its neglect and lack of professionalism would transpire and it would pay dearly for it.
There is a famous joke by George W. Bush regarding the killing of a million Muslims and a dentist, and the only response was: ‘why kill a dentist?’ A clear indication no one will care for the Muslims!
It is unfortunate when politicians think this way; but the fact none of Aljazeera Arabic crew had any protective gear, until ten days after Mr Al-Jaber’s death, is indicative of the Network having such a shameful mentality. For there is no other reason to justify such a treatment other than subconscious self-racism by categorising Aljazeera employees: the “invaluable” Westerner” and the “expendable” Arab/Muslim.
If this is the case, then we have a dilemma.
On the one hand, Aljazeera stands with the people revolting against their dictators, whilst on the other, belonging to the same mindset as that of the regimes – to suck out the sense of citizenship from the people by making them feel inferior to others, be it a certain tribe, ethnicity, creed or political group.
Once again, if such interpretation is correct, then the regime within Aljazeera itself needs to step down and be replaced with a new management where equal and fair treatment for all are a priority regardless of backgrounds.
I reiterate, WHO KILLED MR AL-JABER?
Although the bullets fired in Libya are what killed him, the hand that pulled the trigger is Aljazeera. The pursuance of the criminals should not end with finding the gunman; those in charge at Aljazeera are also responsible for the man who lost his life for the truth.