The Al Jazeera television station admitted Wednesday that its coverage of Israel's release of convicted Lebanese terrorist Samir Kuntar violated the station's own code of ethics. The admission came in response to a threat by Israel's Government Press Office to boycott the satellite channel unless it apologized.
In an official letter, a copy of which was obtained by Haaretz, Al Jazeera's general director, Khanfar Wadah, wrote that "elements of the program" broadcast in Kuntar's honor on the night of Saturday, July 19, "violated [the station's] Code of Ethics," and he "regards these violations as very serious."
He also said he had ordered the channel's programming director to take steps to ensure that such an incident does not recur.
Israel said on Wednesday it would no longer assist Al-Jazeera because of what it said was a televised party hosted by the influential Arabic television station for Lebanese prisoner and convicted child killer Samir Kuntar, freed by Israel last month.
The head of Israel's Government Press Office (GPO) said Al-Jazeera would get only minimal services until it provided a "reasonable answer" about a program which featured a birthday party for Kuntar, who spent 29 years in an Israeli jail for a 1979 attack in which five Israelis were killed.
During the program, produced and hosted by Al Jazeera, Kuntar uses a scimitar to slice a cake with his picture on it, while fireworks are set off around him and a band plays Arabic music.
(Footage courtesy of MEMRI.org)
In a video of the 'party' translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) and posted on their website this week, Kuntar is seen pointing to a picture painted on the cake of he and Hezbollah General Secretary Hassan Nasrallah taken after his release from prison, saying "Me and the Secretary General - the most beautiful picture of me ever taken."
Earlier in the clip, Kuntar is seen holding a scimitar the show's host calls "the sword of the Arabs". As he lowers the sword to cut the cake, the TV anchor implores him, "cut on the side, don't cut on the picture."
According to the subtitles on the clip, the photo montage on the cake also includes a picture of former Tanzim commander Marwan Barghouti, serving life in prison in Israel for his role in terrorist attacks on Israeli citizens.
An Al-Jazeera official at the channel's headquarters in Qatar had no immediate comment. Al-Jazeera has a bureau in Jerusalem and in Ramallah, in the West Bank.
Kuntar was among five Lebanese guerrillas freed last month as part of a prisoner swap between Israel and Hezbollah.
"I don't think it is appropriate for the state of Israel and the Government Press Office to keep extending the services they give them (Al Jazeera)," GPO director Daniel Seaman said.
Seaman said the program "did not only cross a professional line, but a moral line".
He said Al Jazeera's existing press cards would not be revoked, but that without his office's assistance, it could take months instead of days for its personnel to get Israeli entry visas and work permits needed for press accreditation.
Israeli officials have often accused Al Jazeera of biased reporting of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a charge it has denied.