FEBRUARY 13, 2003
The Saudi Arabian government refused to allow the Qatar-based, Arabic-language
satellite station Al-Jazeera to cover the annual Muslim pilgrimage to
Mecca, known as the hajj.
According to a source at the station, the nine-member crew slated to cover
the pilgrimage had applied for visas to Saudi Arabia several months prior
to the hajj. Saudi authorities never responded to Al-Jazeera's request.
Although the Saudi government made no formal statement regarding the visa
applications, authorities have been angered by Al-Jazeera's coverage of
the country, and in September 2002, Saudi officials recalled their ambassador
from Qatar's capital, Doha, where Al-Jazeera is based.
Without visas, the same Al-Jazeera crew could not cover a meeting of defense
and foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council beginning on February
7, in the western city of Jeddah, as it had planned. The Gulf Cooperation
Council comprises six Gulf Arab states: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain,
United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Qatar.
Al-Jazeera has been authorized to cover the pilgrimage for the last three
years. "Last year, we had no trouble," said the station source. This year,
many other stations, including U.S.-based CNN and United Arab Emirates'
Abu Dhabi TV, were allowed to broadcast from Mecca.