Al Jazeera chief hits out at Blunkett over C4 interview

The head of Al Jazeera's London bureau has accused former home secretary David Blunkett of endangering the lives of his network's journalists.

Yosri Fouda's allegations follow comments made by Blunkett on a Dispatches documentary broadcast by Channel 4, which have been interpreted as the MP favouring the bombing of Al Jazeera's Baghdad bureau.

Fouda said: "To brand a news organisation as a potential mouthpiece for your enemy, I find very unfair and, above that, irresponsible, because you incite people, at best, not to cooperate with us, but, at worst, to attack us.

"This is the danger in relation to what high-ranking officials like Mr Blunkett say. Deep inside him, I expect that he doesn't believe it. When you try to present your people with this kind of image of a certain news organisation you are basically committing an act of incitement against every one [of our journalists] wherever they go."

Fouda said Al Jazeera had a tape of the Dispaches interview in which Blunkett suggests that the Al Jazeera transmitter in Iraq be bombed. During the programme, when asked whether he really wanted to "take out" Al Jazeera, Blunkett replied: "It wasn't taking out Al Jazeera as a broadcaster, it was taking out the capacity, just as in the Second World War had we been able to take out Lord Haw Haw. I think people would have been very glad."

When asked whether he feared such an attack would be outside the rules of engagement, Blunkett said: "There wasn't a worry from me, because I believed that this was a war, and in a war you wouldn't allow the broadcast to continue taking place."

What Fouda said he found most outrageous was Blunkett's reasoning to take out an enemy propaganda tool. The London chief said that although Al Jazeera was a free, independent news organisation it had been criticised "by just about everyone and every government in the world". He said that Al Jazeera had faced unfair criticism from a "British government which pretends to be representing western civilisation and values of freedom of the press and freedom of speech". He said: "If you were going into Iraq to democratise the region and introduce liberties, but simultaneously as you are trying to do this you are actually compromising the very essence of the principles that you say you are trying to introduce, this what I find very hypocritical." A spokesperson for David Blunkett told Press Gazette: "Mr Blunkett is seeking legal advice on this. "My understanding of the situation is that during the war Al Jazeera was broadcasting some of the pronouncements from Saddam Hussein's regime and from Iraqi state television. "That was what the whole issue was about. Mr Blunkett's point was, why in a war are we still allowing Iraqi state television to be broadcast.

"Mr Blunkett says very clearly during his interview on Dispatches that he does not believe the bombing of the Al Jazeera offices was legitimate. That is the most important issue in this debate. "Those media who have blown up the situation and pretended that he said it was perfectly legitimate to bomb the Al Jazeera offices are wrong."

Last November, the Daily Mirror published a story claiming that it had unearthed a memo quoting George Bush speculating about a US bombing raid on the Al Jazeera headquarters in Doha. The story claimed that Blair persuaded Bush to take no action.

All news organisations in the UK were warned by the Attorney General against further publication of the leaked memo under the Official Secrets Act.

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