Al Jazeera news director, Wadah Khanfar, resigns after WikiLeaks disclosure


Wadah Khanfar resigned Tuesday after eight years as Al Jazeera's top news director.


Karim Jaafar

Al Jazeera's top news director Wadah Khanfar resigned Tuesday after eight years as the network's top executive. The move came after a WikiLeaks cable suggested that Khanfar changed the network's coverage of the Iraq War as a result of U.S. pressure, The New York Times reports.

He will be replaced by a member of the Qatari royal family. Al Jazeera is a network controlled by Qatar.

According to a cable sent by U.S. ambassador Chase Untermeyer in October 2005, an embassy official gave Khanfar reports by the United States Defense Intelligence Agency that showed the agency was critical of Al Jazeera's coverage of the war in Iraq, the Times reports. In the cable, Khanfar comes across eager to convince the U.S. official that Al Jazeera's coverage was fair and refers to an "agreement" made between the network and the U.S. government.

“The agreement was that it was a non-paper,” the cable quoted Khanfar as saying. “As a news organization, we cannot sign agreements of this nature, and to have it here like this in writing is of concern to us.”

Khanfar also said in a cable that he changed coverage at the official's request, removing images showing wounded children in a hospital and a woman with a wounded face, the Times reports.

The former news director has been credited with revolutionizing the Arab media landscape, the Guardian reports. During his eight years as news director, Al Jazeera has firmly established its reputation and built its brand around the world. And Khanfar has been tightly linked with Al Jazeera's successes.

"Whatever you think of Al Jazeera's coverage, there's no question @khanfarw put the network on the global map. Big time," Blake Hounshell of Foreign Policy magazine tweeted Tuesday.

In a letter to Al Jazeera staff, Khanfar wrote: "This newsroom showed the world the first images of the Asian Tsunami and of the famine in Niger. In 2011, the eyes of the world watched the aspirations of millions unfold as our newsrooms broadcast, tweeted and published the events unfolding in the liberation squares from Sidi Bouzid to Jissr Al-Shughur. The coverage of these revolutions is ongoing, and we continue to report the fight of the youth to achieve dignity and freedom from tyranny and dictatorship."

Khanfar will be replaced by Sheik Ahmad bin Jasem bin Muhammad Al-Thani, a businessman and member of the royal family.