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tv   HAR Dtalk  BBC News  August 16, 2017 4:30am-5:01am BST

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for the deadly violence at a protest in charlottesville on saturday. in off—the cuff remarks, he accused what he described as "alt—left" groups of deliberately attacking white supremacists and neo—nazis protesting at the removal of a statue of a confederate general. a spokesman for the sierra leonean president has told the bbc that at least 600 people are still missing following the mudslide that swamped hundreds of homes on the outskirts of the capital freetown on monday. the authorities say rescue workers have recovered nearly 400 bodies. the last weapons belonging to colombia's former left—wing rebels — the farc — have been handed over to un monitors. the colombian president, juan manuel santos, declared that this was the last breath of the country's fifty—two year armed conflict. former fighters are to be reintegrated into society. the express leads with new figures that suggest house prices have soared by ten thousand pounds on average since last year's brexit
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vote. the i claims the government is to announce there is be to no land border with the republic of ireland after britain leaves the eu (ani) —— after britain leaves the eu. the guardian reports that a government plan to mirror european customs controls after brexit is being ridiculed in brussels the ft carries a picture of the indian prime minister celebrating the 70th anniversary of his country's independence. the mirror headlines calls from campaign groups for the government to freeze rail fares after an increase of 3.6%. announced for january. the telegraph claims the number of babies left brain damaged following nhs blunders has increased by almost a quarter in one year. the daily mail says mps could review plans to restore big ben after claims that some weren't aware the famous bongs would be silenced for 4 years. now it's time for hardtalk.
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welcome to hardtalk. i'm stephen sackur. when the aljazeera news network was launched in qatar in 1996, it had a seismic impact on the media landscape in the middle east. here was an arab broadcaster refusing to play by local rules. it was ambitious, punchy and provocative in its coverage of the region and the world. two decades on, maybe it's time for payback. saudi arabia and its closest allies recently demanded qatar close the network down. my guest is mostefa souag, director general of aljazeera. do his channel have a future? mostefa souag, welcome to hardtalk.
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good day, stephen. we have to start with the threat of closure that appeared to be hanging over aljazeera just a few short days ago. the threat of course which came from saudi arabia and its allies, which demanded the closing of the aljazeera network as a condition for lifting an economic blockade on qatar. be clear with me. is there still a risk you may have to shut down? well, first of all i would like to say that aljazeera has created a new media environment in the middle east, in the arab world. there is something that is called
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before aljazeera and since al jazeera. the threat that these countries are targeting aljazeera is of course... any threat is a serious threat for us, but qatar has said clearly that aljazeera is not for negotiation. we don't feel any threat whatsoever in this respect. the only thing that we are sorry for is that we don't have the chance to be in the field in these countries because reporting from the field is what we do best. however, we will continue reporting about these countries and about all other countries whenever there is an issue of relevance to our audience. yeah, i mean, it's very unlikely you're going to get back your presence in saudi arabia, for example, when the information minister describes you as "a defamation tool of manufactured news"
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you've become an instrument, he says, in the hands of al qaeda, daesh, so—called islamic state, and hezbollah. it doesn't sound like the saudis will want you back any time soon. maybe not, but the information ministerjust days before the decision was made by these countries was welcoming aljazeera as a professional media institution. there was no problem then. what kind of revelation that he got in order to make such a statement? aljazeera has never been such a thing as we mentioned and we have never received any specific complaint from the saudis, or from any of these countries, except in certain cases with certain countries when they complain about our professional reporting, because they don't like us to tell the truth, they don't like us to tell people what's going on exactly. they don't want us to bring opposition leaders to discuss
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the issue, et cetera. that's the only complaint we found and that kind of complaint is actually our benefit because it shows how professional we are. you call it truth telling, it isn't always seen as truth telling, is it? it's seen as polemic and opinion, which you inject into your coverage. we should be clear for our audience around the world that the criticism is aimed at aljazeera arabic, rather than aljazeera english. but to quote hussein ibish from the arab gulf states institute, a respected think tank, he says of aljazeera arabic, "it goes much further than fox news". he says it's like "fox news on steroids, flirting with the promotion of violence". mmm. i don't really know how respected this man or this institution, and especially when it deals with aljazeera, because it's obvious that he is following the political
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line of the country where he is. however, i can tell you thatjust recently we have tried to look into the publications about aljazeera. there are more than 280 books and phd dissertations and masters degrees, et cetera, in addition to hundreds and hundreds of academic papers. all of them consider aljazeera a very highly professional institution. they don't agree with him at all. now, when i am saying this i am talking about aljazeera in general. arabic, english, et cetera. what's the difference between aljazeera arabic and al jazeera english? some people try to make the distinction, in the arab world in particular, to give the impression to the western academics or the western audience that aljazeera arabic is different from aljazeera english. that's not true. well, we...
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i can show you... excuse me, just one minute. there are so many articles and studies that show there is no difference in our editorial line. the difference is in certain topics, as in some cases we cover things for our audience in the middle east that is not covered by english and vice—versa. because... let me stop you. we are interested in giving our audience what is relevant to our audience, not what is not relevant. i can give you many examples of this. i don't want to rely on the testimony of those who clearly come from countries where there is a decision taken that aljazeera is very bad news. i want to rely more on the testimony of people who've actually worked inside your organisation. let me start with gregg carlstrom. he's a former staffer on aljazeera who was there for nearly four years. i don't know if you know him personally, but on this first issue of whether the difference is significant between aljazeera english and arabic, he says, quote,
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"there was and there still is a vast gulf between arabic and al jazeera english. they share a name but little else, even operating out of separate buildings, across the street from each other, and their editorial lines are very sharply different. now he's not one of your enemies, he used to work for aljazeera. i don't know, i don't consider him an enemy, i just would like to ask you — could you ask him if he understands arabic and he has been watching aljazeera arabic very seriously in order to make such a statement? that's an interesting... no, it's very important because in certain cases people pronounce or make this kind of pronouncement without being able to even understand what's going on. that's an interesting point. the topics, the issues are different, you see, but the editorial line is the same. we don't use two different editorial lines. that very point you made has been used against you.
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for example, the uae ambassador who was on hardtalk a few days ago talking about this problem of the messages that come out of aljazeera, he said, the problem is that many of the journalists in aljazeera english don't understand arabic and they are now going to the barricades, standing up for what they think is an issue of press freedom, when they don't even realise that the messages coming out of aljazeera arabic are different and they are being used in effect as a fig leaf for extremism. now that's what the ambassador says. well, i'm really sorry to hear such a thing from the ambassador. i know the ambassador, to moscow, i believe. that's right. i can tell you something. these people, the emirati themselves, they have never complained about our coverage, except now after the blockade started they have started speaking about al jazeera is supporting terrorism. now, i have seen some of their advertisements,
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some of the videos that they put online. they are taken out of context and i can read to you some of the things they said, compared to what actually happened on aljazeera. it is falsification, distorting. unfortunately you can't take the testimony of such a person very seriously. it's not true and we can go into details if you like. we will go into a few details, let's keep it as brief and simple as we can. the coverage matters and people around the world will have to judge for themselves whether your reporting is, as you put it, truth telling. starting in syria, for example. let's talk about aktham suliman, who was your correspondent based in germany. he quit in 2012 because he says your coverage of syria since the rioting began in 2011 has become so partisan and one—sided he could not stomach it any more. yes.
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aktham suliman was a very good reporter. he was the editorial chief in germany for aljazeera arabic and he is one of two or three people who actually left aljazeera on their own. i mean, they decide to go. not the ones where we asked them to go and then they went outside and claimed they resigned. so aktham suliman resigned for a very simple reason — he is 100% with the assad regime and he couldn't swallow the fact that we were reporting from the field about the revolution, about the resistance, about the opposition, et cetera. this is what he couldn't take. well, hang on... i don't have any information, i don't have a sure information, but i assume that he was actually forced by the government to do so. well, you can't. ..
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you can't besmirch his reputation on air like that without frankly giving him the right of reply. we don't know what his right of reply would say to that, but i can tell you that it sounds very odd that you stay on the one hand he was a journalist of high reputation,whom you chose to employ as one of your most senior correspondents, and then when he comes out with a statement that he is deeply unhappy with your reporting you say he is unacceptably partisan. you can't have it both ways. well, yeah, i agree with you, and i still respect the guy. but i'm telling you that probably, that's what i was going to say, most probably he was forced to do that by the agents of the syrian government. i don't have any information on this. however, aktham suliman never came to tell us what we did wrong in syria. we were covering syria very professionally. maybe it's because, forgive me for interrupting, but we need to get
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through this quickly. maybe one of his problems was that when you have been covering the growth in radical islamist militant groups in syria, for example ahrar al—sham, one of the al qaeda affiliate groups, you on air have had commentators describing them as "moderate opposition" to bashar al—assad. now, anyone who thinks an al qaeda affiliate is moderate is taking a veryjaundiced view of what's happening in syria, aren't they? well, yeah, but at the time when he resigned i don't think this issue was raised at all. not with us, by him or by any other... this is an issue i'm raising. i'm not asking you to address it from his point of view, it's from my point of view.
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i just want to finish with him. i am not accusing him of anything, i am just saying that maybe he was forced, he was threatened. he never came to aljazeera and said, this report or that report was wrong. it has never happened. i can challenge him and he can come and show me with whom he talked. when we cover syria, like we cover everything else, we cover all the opposition to the system as we hoped that to cover the government as well. at this moment, we are still asking the government or syria to allow us to work inside, wherever the government controls the areas. they refuse. they refuse to even answer our letters. for the rest, we cover everything that we can. there is no reason for aljazeera not to cover something just because somebody doesn't want us to cover it. we bring knowledge and information to our audience. it is a question of how you present things. if we manufactured of also buy something, you can tell me about it. for the rest we are talking
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about people who are fighting... we see they are fighting assad, whether they are good or bad is not our business. we are notjudges. we are covering the news. it seems a remarkable coincidence that, on all the key positions that the qatari government has taken in regional affairs and issues in recent years, the aljazeera network appears to have backed those positions completely. and yet you say you never have any interference or any contact with the ruling family of qatar, which completely funds your network. itjust seems a very remarkable coincidence. it is, isn't it? however, let's get back to the state of qatar that finances aljazeera. how much, by the way? how much does it cost every year?
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that is not something to be... that is not revealed here. why? we are both journalists who believe in transparency. why can't we discussed... i am not allowed to tell you now the number. who is stopping you? maybe another time. nobody is stopping... nobody is stopping me, but there are issues, there are many issues related to this. i don't think this is the real issue with aljazeera. i think it is important. whether it is half $1 million or $1 billion, it is not the issue. the issue is what happened on the ground. where there is defer is by the qatar government or not. except for the very few times in my life that i met with the qatar officials, political officials, outside aljazeera, nothing to do with aljazeera, i have never talked to them and they have never talked to me about anything that was put on screen. you just used... whether you believe it or not is something else. you just used a very
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interesting phrase. you said, i am not allowed to tell you that. i want to know who sets the rules as to what you are and i'm not able to say to me as a fellowjournalist about the way your network works. most international news networks believe in transparency. we know who fund them, we know how they operate and we know what the owners do in terms of editorial guidance. in the case of aljazeera, there is no transparency at all. when it comes to the budget, usually we don't publish the information. who decides this? why? i am not telling you. the budget committee decides that, at this moment, we should not put that figure to the public. at this moment. maybe in future.
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however, what you and the public need to know is that our, maybe 90% of our budget comes from the government. that is enough for you. all the things that you see at financed by the government, by the state of qatar. from the beginning, my understanding was that the emir of qatar said, you are completely independent — you are independent, we just finance you. we try to be independent as much as it can be in any environment. however, you have to understand, stephen, that you guys in the west, you work in a very democratic environment. you work in a very safe environment. here are released, as you can see, the threats against aljazeera, this area is not an easy area to work in. yet we are among the most courageous and the boldest and the best in doing investigative reporting and showing what needs to be shown. this is what you have to take into consideration. let's talk about your relationship
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with the qatar authorities. one of your senior political analyst recently described all of the countries lined up against you at the moment, —— one of your senior political analysts recently described all of the countries lined up against you at the moment, saudi arabia, the gulf states, the uae and egypt, he described them as dictatorships. how would you describe the qatar government? i don't think it is a dictatorship. i think there is a difference between, you have royalty in england. of course it is different, it is constitutional royalty. there is a royalfamily in saudi arabia and your man called it a dictatorship. why is qatar not a dictatorship? look at the difference in practices in the two countries. excuse me. i don't want, i am here to talk about aljazeera in the media,
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not about the political situation. believe me, i am not afraid to talk about it, it is just that this is taking the attention away from the real issue that is facing the media. media is in a very serious problem in the middle east, in north africa and many countries, including latin america. there is a regression in freedom of the media. here in qatar, in aljazeera, we have complete independence. if that is not understandable, i can understand you. how come you... i have to say, your argument is, in some ways powerful, but in some ways is losing me. i agree there is a crisis of trust in media across the world. the only way to address that is by being very transparent
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and clear about the way we operate. you operate out of qatar, you are completely funded by the qatar government. you say to me that there is no comparison between some of your present enemies such as saudi arabia, egypt and the government of qatar. i would put to use a precise opposite. look at the most recent reports from amnesty international and human rights watch. they said qatar is no more a democracy than the other gulf countries. the amnesty international report said qatar authorities continue to unduly restrict the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly. when it comes to the media, in december 2016, an independent news service in doha was blocked from all of its internet service providers. you try and justify that to me, and tell me that qatar is fundamentally different
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from the other occupants of your region. i am not telling you that qatar is a democratic country yet. i think there have been a lot of good developments in qatar. in so many respects. we believe it is coming, the full democracy. there are now study is going on in order to allow the journalists in qatar deunionise, the same thing with aljazeera. these things are coming. i believe it will be coming. you sound like a minister from the qatar government. when it comes to freedom of assembly, expression, freedom of workers to associate in unions, look at the treatment of migrant workers who are supposed to be building facilities for the world cup. you know that on all of these issues, your network has failed to report the truth from your own host country. there are two things.
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firstly, aljazeera has made so many reports on this particular issue that you are talking about. the condition of workers. the workers, again, you say that i am taking the hat of a qatar minister. if the truth is they are, you have to say it. i said i don't want to talk about politics but you are insisting. i say that there are issues, nobody is saying that qatar is 100% a democracy, everything is free, et cetera. we are in progress, we are working toward this. the emir himself says this. he believes in it. the government believes in it, members of the governments believe in those things, but it takes time. i hope to see one day soon,
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all of these liberties that you are talking about. i will see them on the ground. i do have certain faith that it is going to be. but if you want to discuss this particular issue about qatar, you need to talk to the foreign minister or the justice minister, not to me. i don't have the power to do it. i am telling you that within aljazeera, we do what is professionally right. that is without interference from the government. i understand it is difficult to understand. for a worked for aljazeera, i didn't believe it. but i saw it with my own eyes, i experienced it and i leave it. that's how it is. we have to end there, but i thank you very much forjoining me on hardtalk, mostefa souag. you are welcome, thank you. well, we've got a bit of rain on the way on wednesday,
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particularly across western areas of the uk. but at the moment out there, it is dry. a lot of clear weather. and also quite nippy, particularly across northern areas of the uk. in the countryside temperatures will be down to the single figures. perhaps 5—6. even on the south coast, about 8—9. but that is in the countryside. here is wednesday's weather map. here is the low pressure approaching. that is going to upset western areas. but to the east, we have high pressure. that means the morning could look sunny for many of us in the east, in england and scotland. south wales will be decent enough too. through the morning, rain does increase and the winds, too. things will get greyer and greyer and then there will be outbreaks of rain. rain getting to cornwall, northern parts of wales, northern ireland, certainly into the afternoon. but it will be fine and bright in many parts of england, especially in the east.
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20 in newcastle, low 20s in london. wednesday night, the rain moves through. some of it might be heavy, but it is out of the way by the time we get to wednesday — thursday morning, that is. early on thursday, still a bit of rain around. then it clears out into the north sea. thursday afternoon is looking bright. fairly brisk. some showers around — most will be across the north—west. hit and miss rain. temperatures will get to 2a in london. 21 degrees in newcastle. to get into friday, low pressure is close to our neighbourhood, essentially spelling further showers on the way. so not much change to our weather pattern. still a bit of a breeze out there. most showers will be across the northern half of the uk. so anywhere along the south coast will have a mostly dry day. and then saturday is looking quite breezy. there will be some sunshine and showers. and interesting things happening in the atlantic at the moment. right now, there is hurricane gert,
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which is churning off the eastern seaboard of the united states. what is going to happen with this storm system, it is going to accelerate into the north atlantic. it will get mixed up with our normal weather patterns, and then that mess will come our way. we will get wet and windy weather at times. so i think a blustery weekend on the way. and before i go, a quick look at the weather across europe on wednesday. and there's a lot of hot sunshine out there across the mediterranean. temperatures in some spots will be around about a0 degrees or so, and some thunderstorms rumbling through central europe, as well. this is bbc news. i'm james menendez. our top stories: president trump has again said anti—fascist demonstrators share blame for violence at the charlottesville white supremacist rally. 600 people are still missing in the sierra leone mudslide — the death toll could reach 1,000. and the largest warship ever to serve in the royal navy is about to berth in its home port.
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we'll be there. and i'm ben bland. borderline decisions. the uk government says there'll be no return to a hard border with ireland. a trillion—dollar problem. later today, the us, canada and mexico will sit down to renegotiate the nafta free trade agreement.
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