Did WikiLeaks cable lead Al Jazeera news head to resign?

Leaked cable suggests Wadah Khanfar had, under pressure from the U.S., modified the network's coverage of the Iraq war. But for now, the link between WikiLeaks and the resignation remains speculative.

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Leslie Katz
2 min read

WikiLeaks--famed for making worldwide waves by leaking secret documents--is commanding headlines again, this time in relation to a management shakeup at Arab news television network Al Jazeera.

Wadah Khanfar had been news director at the network for eight years before resigning today. His resignation followed the release of WikiLeaks material suggesting that he had, under pressure from the United States, modified the network's coverage of the Iraq war. These alterations, according to the leaked cable, include the removal of images of injured children from a Web piece in which witnesses gave their accounts of U.S. military operations in Iraq.

Wadah Khanfar has stepped down from his post at Al Jazeera. Al Jazeera

In a statement today, Al Jazeera said Khanfar "had been discussing his decision to step down with Sheikh Hamad bin Thamer Al Thani, the chairman of the board, for some time."

The network did not mention the WikiLeaks document, saying only of Khadar that "we all recognise his commitment to courageous reporting and want to continue to build upon those achievements."

Khanfar also avoided any mention of WikiLeaks in a tweet today, saying: "Entertained by all the rumors of why I have resigned. #whatdoyouthink? :-)"

A number of high-profile media outlets, however, are suggesting a connection between the resignation and the WikiLeaks cable. According to the Associated Press:

The leaked US diplomatic cable dated October 2010 indicated Khanfar was in constant contact with the US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), responding to US complaints of negative coverage and promising to tone down items on the station's website.

Some observers say the leaked documents call into question the relationship between Al Jazeera's Qatari owners and its coverage of the region.

The cable, according to the AP, referred to Qatari Ministry of Foreign Affairs as MFA, which purportedly passed some of the Defense Intelligence Agency reports on to Khadar.

Al-Jazzeera today named Sheik Ahmad bin Jasem bin Muhammad Al-Thani, a businessman and member of Qatar's royal family, to succeed Khadar as the network's new director general.

WikiLeaks is advancing its own theories on the situation in a series of tweets that include this one:

"Speculation: Waddah grew more influential than the al-Thani's; Arab Spring+Libya+Bahrain put this in relief; al-Thani's moved to keep power."