After eight years as Al Jazeera's top news director, Wadah Khanfar resigned on Tuesday. Though the network released a statement saying the departure had been planned since July, observers have been quick to suggest that Khanfar was forced out after a WikiLeaks cable release revealed that he allowed U.S. officials to influence the station's coverage of the war in Iraq (and other things, presumably). In contrast to the network's public image as a harsh critic of U.S. actions abroad, the 2005 report portrays Khanfar as "eager" to show the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency that Al Jazeera's work is "fair":
According to the cable, the [American embassy official] handed Mr. Khanfar copies of critical reports by the United States Defense Intelligence Agency on three months of Al Jazeera’s coverage of the Iraq war; Mr. Khanfar said that the Qatari Foreign Ministry had already provided him with two months of the American reports, according to the cable, suggesting a close three-way consultation involving the two governments and the network.
He also urged American officials to keep his behind-the-scenes collaboration a secret.
The cable also describes an incident in which he agreed to remove graphic photos of wounded women and children from Al Jazeera's website at the request of a U.S. official. Additionally, the cable's content appears to undermine Al Jazeera's claim of editorial independence from its owner, the state of Qatar. (That Khanfar's replacement is a member Qatari royal family seems to further highlight the apparent contradiction.) Meanwhile, Khanfar maintains that the decision to leave was his own:
On his Twitter account, Khanfar justified his resignation as prompted by the network needs for "renewal and change," and commented on several tweets linking his resignation to the leaked U.S. embassy cables, by saying, "(I am) entertained by all the rumors of why I have resigned."
In an interview with the Guardian, Khanfar "shrugged off" questions about his relationship with the American government: "Always we receive complaints. If the complaint has any merit we deal with it. Sometimes we make mistakes. We accept it. But if it's political we don't actually take it into consideration."
After Disclosures by WikiLeaks, Al Jazeera Replaces Its Top News Director [NYT]
Al-Jazeera: Director announces resignation [AP]
Al-Jazeera chief's surprise resignation raises fears for channel's independence [Guardian UK]