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Tue 25 Mar 2003 04:00 AM

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Al Jazeera cries foul play

Satellite channels’s online news service crashes to a halt, but recovers to launch new English web site.

Al Jazeera, the Qatari-based satellite news channel yesterday (March 24) blamed computer hackers for crashing its online news service. The channel, which was criticised by US officials on March 23 for broadcasting controversial images of captured America troops, has now revived its web site.“We have a problem. I believe there are some hackers, some attack, but I don't know exactly,” a spokesman for Al Jazeera told New Scientist magazine.According to the spokesmen, the attack may have been prompted by footage from the Iraqi military, which showed interviews with frightened-looking US prisoners of war and pictures of American corpses.The harrowing scenes caused outrage among US and British sources with Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary denouncing them as a breach of the Geneva Convention on the treatment of war prisoners.“Needless to say, television networks that carry such pictures are, I would say, doing something that’s unfortunate,” said Rumsfeld in an interview on CNN’s Late Edition.Jihad Ali Ballout, an Al Jazeera spokesman, refuted these claims. “Look who’s talking about international law and regulations. We didn't make the pictures - the pictures are there,” said Ballout. “It’s a facet of the war. Our duty is to show the war from all angles.”Although there has been a marked increase in politically motivated hacking since the outbreak of war on March 20, security experts are not convinced that the site was hacked into and suggestions are that it may have been a simple question of a surge in visitors.Nevertheless, with Al Jazeera’s coverage enraging the US government, there are signs that the satellite channel may be facing a boycott in the US, after the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) banned an Al Jazeera reporter from its trading floor on March 24. It said that access would be restricted to ‘responsible’ networks. “We’ve had to focus our efforts on networks that focus on responsible business coverage,” said Ray Pellechia, NYSE spokesman, who stressed that the ban would be indefinite. Despite this, the US central command’s public affairs officer assigned to Al Jazeera hinted that the news channel was not doing anything untoward and was offering balanced coverage of events.“I think it's as fair and balanced as a lot of our coverage in the United States,” said Lieutenant Joshua Rushing. “I think some reporters have their agendas, just like reporters in the United States, but in terms of the higher principles of journalism, they are just like the 24-hour news stations in the U.S.”Al Jazeera also launched an English-language Web site on Monday, offering, it says, an alternative to the views of western media outlets. The site is devoted to news on the Iraqi conflict, billing itself as offering ‘objective and balanced global news coverage and analysis.’In a separate development, Reporters Without Borders reported on March 22 that two Al Jazeera journalists had been struck by several police officers while covering a student demonstration against the war in Iraq, near the American embassy in Sudan. According to one of the journalists, Islam Salih, a police officer continued to beat him and his cameraman despite identifying themselves as Al Jazeera journalists.

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