The state-owned Doha-based broadcaster Al Jazeera is being used as a diplomatic cool in the Middle East despite claims of its independence, U.S. diplomats said a cable revealed by the online whistleblower WikiLeaks.
"Al Jazeera Arabic news channel will continue to be an instrument of Qatari influence, and continue to be an expression, however uncoordinated, of the nation's foreign policy," according to an assessment contained in one of the cables.
A November 2009 cable, given to The Guardian by WikiLeaks, surmises that the network could one day 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, US diplomats referred to the satellite "station's political masters." Media freedoms were not advancing as a whole in the Gulf country, according to the documents.
"The Qatari government claims to champion press freedom elsewhere, but generally does not tolerate it at home," the U.S. embassy in Doha reported in June 2009.
The diplomats also noted a more positive portrayal of the U.S. by the channel since the election of Barack Obama.
"We expect that trend to continue and to further develop as U.S.- Qatari relations improve, particularly to the extent that Al Jazeera coverage is made part of our bilateral discussion," U.S. diplomats wrote.
"This is the US embassy's assessment, and it is very far from the truth," Al Jazeera said in response to the release of the cables, saying it was "guided by the principles of a free press."
Also noted in the cable was "Qatar's annoyance" with infractions of immigration and customs laws by U.S. soldiers in the country, but the diplomats said measures were being taken to address the tensions.
Qatar holds the third largest proven natural gas reserves in the world and also hosts U.S. military bases. It has been selected to host the FIFA World Cup in 2022.
WikiLeaks gave Britain's Guardian newspaper access to the confidential correspondence.
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