State Dept. Tried to Get Tape Shelved

The State Department on Friday asked the government of Qatar to discourage Al-Jazeera from broadcasting a videotaped speech by Usama bin Laden (search), a senior State Department official said.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the State Department spoke to officials in Qatar before Al-Jazeera showed a portion of the tape. In it, the Al Qaeda (search) leader said the United States can avoid another attack if it stops threatening the security of Muslims.

The request to the Persian Gulf government, which is considered an ally in the U.S. campaign to counter terror, was passed through the U.S. embassy in Doha, Qatar's capital.

Al-Jazeera spokesman Jihad Ali Ballout issued a statement saying his station "has established itself as maintaining an independent editorial policy" and based decisions on what to air on newsworthiness. "I don't think anybody would disagree as to the high news value of the bin Laden tape," he said.

The network was launched in 1996 with a five-year $150 million loan from Qatar's government. Since then, Al-Jazeera has claimed full independence from the government and executives say the station now supports itself financially. It has gained a reputation as an independent voice in a region where many other news organizations are government-controlled.

Secretary of State Colin Powell (search) and other Bush administration officials have appeared in Al-Jazeera interviews, although the State Department has occasionally denounced the network as biased against the United States. The reason for going on these programs is to convey the U.S. message to the Arab world, the official said.