February 13, 2003 - Updated on January 20, 2016

Al-Jazira barred from covering the Hajj rites in Mecca

In a letter sent to the Saudi Consultative Council (Majlis Al-Shoura) Reporters Without Borders deplored that the Qatar-based satellite channel, Al-Jazira, was barred from covering the hajj. "As the guardian of the holy Islamic places, the Saudi authorities must show their open-mindedness and accredit, without discrimination, all channels wishing to retransmit video footage of the religious celebrations", wrote Robert Ménard. The organisation also called for Al-Jazira journalists to be authorized to cover the Gulf Cooperation Council's (GCC) defence and foreign ministers summit to be held on 15 February 2003 in Jeddah (Saudi Arabia). "We applied for visas for our nine-member crew three months ago because we knew that there was a big chance that we would not get the OK", said Ibrahim Hilal, Al-Jazira's chief editor. A Saudi official confirmed, under cover of anonymity, that the visa applications had been received and denied. Relations between Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been stormy since Al-Jazira broadcast in June 2002 a programme the Saudi kingdom deemed insulting to the royal family. This quarrel between the Qatari channel and the Saudi authorities turned into a diplomatic crisis in September 2002 when Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador to Qatar and demanded official excuses from the Qatari government. Although Al-Jazira has never had a bureau or a permanent correspondent in Saudi Arabia, it was authorised to cover the pilgrimage for three years till now. Many channels such as the American CNN, Saudi MBC and Emirati Abu Dhabi TV were, on the other hand, allowed to broadcast live from Mecca the various stages of the pilgrimage which began on 5 February and finished today, the third day of the Muslim Eid celebrations.