Wadah Khanfar

Khanfar described the technical pressures faced by Al Jazeera as 'a unique experience', which new media platforms helped them overcome

Credit: By Joi on Flickr. Some rights reserved.
The former director general of Al Jazeera, Wadah Khanfar, told the Global Editors Network summit today of the pressures placed on the broadcaster from governments across the Arab world as it reported on revolutions over the past year.

Addressing the conference in Hong Kong, Khanfar, who stepped down as director general in September, said the broadcaster has experienced pressure "for the last 15 years", but added that when uprisings broke out in Egypt in late 2010 other countries feared they "would be next" and that the Al Jazeera's coverage would help "train people in their countries about how to revolt".

During his address he also paid tribute to new media and online activists, without which he said Al Jazeera would not have been able to cover the events.

"This kind of relationship that we used to discuss in conferences as competition and maybe sometimes a threat, started to be a new example of integration. We could not cover Egypt without the internet activists. Our offices were closed and we could not deliver the message sometimes without new media because our satellite signal was brought down."

In January Al Jazeera reported that its Cario office was closed down by the government, at which point the broadcaster
called on bloggers and citizen journalists to send in content.

A month later Al Jazeera also reported that the same office was
attacked and "burned along with all the equipment inside it" and in March the company said its Yemen bureau was also broken into and equipment seized.

Under the technical pressures the broadcaster often relied on online platforms, such as Twitter and its liveblog, which its correspondents were even able to call in to to leave audio updates when phone lines were down.

"It was a unique experience," Khanfar said today. "Most difficult moment in my life when the satelite signal was put out and the Arab World was seeing a blackout on the screen".

He also admitted that in the early stages it was "never expected" that the marches taking place in some of the countries would result in the revolutions which followed and that initial evaluations were "wrong".

But he added that once the details of what was happening emerged "Al Jazeera went full force on covering the story".

Later in his speech he made a passionate call on all journalists to "check facts" and not to "fall into the trap of immediacy" in the online world.

"Sometimes we journalists are lazy. We don't want to check our facts ... we pretend we know exactly what we're talking about.

He also added that news outlets need to "facilitate the dialogue" within the "informed" community: "as it is, not the perception of it, not as our prejudice sometimes".

"We say we're detached, from our personal prejudice but should not be detached from universal values.

"Should also celebrate the beauty of someone voluntarily and democratically taking charge of his fate ... We have been entrusted and have responsibility to deliver accurate information and at the same time a deep understanding of reality.

"We need journalism of depth … that makes us unique. We are there because we have been asked to investigate ... we have to fight to keep journalism and investigating alive."

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