Middle East network covering DNC from office in Denver suburb
Residents of suburban Golden, Colo., say they don’t want the Middle East television network Al Jazeera setting up a broadcast office in town for the coming Democratic convention, forcing the city manager to withdraw an invitation to network officials to join him for a picnic.
According to the Denver Post, Golden City Manager Mike Bestor withdrew an invitation to the crew for the news channel known for broadcasting updates from al-Qaida.
The controversy arose when area residents discovered the network was setting up a base of operations from which to cover the DNC in the Denver suburb.
Bestor said he issued the barbecue invitation to Al Jazeera English officials as a private citizen after the network said it wanted to do interviews at the gathering. The network had contracted with a local bar, the Buffalo Rose, to use as a base for its operations during the DNC.
But residents took their complaints to the city council, demanding officials not allow the network to broadcast from town.
“I am not happy about Al Jazeera infiltrating our small town and portraying us however they see fit,” resident Dawne Montoya told KWGN-TV.
City officials said the Arab network approached them about broadcasting from Golden and no city money would go towards the project. They stand by their decision, even though residents are objecting.
“We treated them like any other news organization, we believe in the First Amendment, freedom of speech, freedom of press is so vitally important,” Bestor told the station.
Al Jazeera representatives contended their network is misrepresented in America and has no agenda but to show the world what American politics are all about.
“I think it’s unfortunate when people try to stifle different voices when people don’t want to hear or allow other people to hear what is being said,” spokesman Rob Reynolds told KWGN.
In a statement on the city’s website, officials said the city council “listened to a large volume of public comment” regarding Al Jazeera during its city council meeting Aug. 21.
The city concluded it “doesn’t have the right to restrict or prohibit Al Jazeera or any other news agency from broadcasting out of the city, whether we approve of their coverage or not, whether we share their perspectives or not, whether we find their coverage offensive or not.”
The city statement said Bestor had offered the invitation to Al Jazeera to his barbecue “believing that doing so would enable him to ensure that a representative group of Golden citizens were interviewed and that Golden would be “fairly represented.”
But he apologized for the “divisiveness” his actions had brought about and confirmed he did not mean any disrespect for “the many brave veterans and men and women currently serving this country in the Armed Forces.”
Al Jazeera English, a division of the parent Al Jazeera, debuted in 2006 and claims 100 million viewers worldwide. The parent, an Arabic language network, has been controversial for its broadcast of videos showing Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaida leaders.
Just weeks earlier, the parent company admitted to “unethical” behavior in its coverage of Israel’s release of convicted Lebanese terrorist Samir Kuntar.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz said Israel’s government press office raised the issue of the network’s coverage of the welcome-home festivities for Kuntar in which the head of Al Jazeera’s Beirut office, Ghassan bin Jiddo, praised the terrorist, calling him a “pan-Arab hero.”
Kuntar was convicted of murdering four Israelis, two adults and two children, during a 1979 terrorist attack. He was released last month as part of a deal with Hezbollah. In exchange, Israel received the bodies of kidnapped soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev.
Haaretz reported bin Jiddo previously was awarded Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s first interview of the Second Lebanon War. But bin Jiddo also told Syrian television officials he never would agree to interview Israelis.