Khaled Al Ga’aeem, under-secretary of the Libyan foreign ministry, phoned Al Jazeera on Monday evening. He was put live on air.
Here is a rough translation of the conversation that followed.
Al Jazeera: With us now is Khaled Gaeem, under-secretary of the foreign ministry. What’s your comment on what happened today in Libya?
Khaled Al Ga’aeem: Good evening, the reason I am calling is to seek the truth and only the truth. I want stress two facts to the viewers in the Arab nation [world] - and especially to Libyans inside and outside Libya. And I take personal and full responsibility, and I am ready - not only to resign from my post - but also set myself on fire in the Green Square - if it is confirmed that there were mercenaries from African states coming by planes and if it is confirmed that there was aerial bombardment. And, by the way, I asked the British ambassador to be a witness and to bring a media crew tomorrow morning to tour all Tripoli to look for find any aftermath of aerial bombardment or discriminate bombardment. I will bear full responsibility and I will pay with my life as a price for it.
AJ: Sir, allow me…
KAG [interrupts]: Al Jazeera is trying to burn Libya ... Al Jazeera is far from professional…
AJ [interrupts]: Allow me, allow me… Before you asked the British to bring in a crew, why wouldn’t you allow Al Jazeera to send a crew in. We have a priority over the British. Would you allow a TV crew from Al Jazeera to come in?
KAG: Until Al Jazeera proves the opposite, we trust a foreign channel more then we trust an Arab channel. I invited Al Arabiya channel as well, and will call them shortly to ask them to come to Tripoli. CNN, I put this challenge on the ground… If there’s any aftermath of bombardment found…
AJ [interrupts]: You spoke about CNN, Al Arabiya and the British - let me speak, so you can hear one other. You asked all them to come - but my question was clear: Will you allow a crew from Al Jazeera to come and look and report what we see?
KAG: Al Jazeera should prove its professionalism first, then we will invite it after tomorrow. Al Jazeera’s professionalism is at stake.
AJ: So now you became giving out and distributing certificates in professionalism?
KAG: [answer unclear]
AJ second anchor: What about the pictures we saw screened on Al Jazeera? Aren’t these pictures and videos evidence of what’s happening in Libya?
KAG: Tomorrow you will see live pictures from foreign media outlets from around Tripoli, and crews will go to Benghazi. In Benghazi, the situation is different from Tripoli. There are groups of people, like brother Saif al-Islam [Gaddafi’s eldest son] said: Groups have demands and we understand it - and I personally don’t see any problem with peaceful demonstrations and calling for any demand. But, when people attack bases and seize weapons to terrify civilians and our soldiers…
AJ [interrupts]: But sir, “the situation is different from Tripoli to Benghazi”? Do you deny that massacres by the regime took place in Benghazi?
KAG: Benghazi didn’t witness massacres by the state. There were mistakes by policemen, and I personally as a citizen, and not as a public servant, hold policemen who used excessive force to account - and they tried to justify it as self-defence when protestors attacked and tried to burn police stations. But I support the investigation that Saif al-Islam announced today, with a judge heading a committee.
AJ: What guarantees are there for this investigation to be honest?
KAG: The Libyan judiciary is honest and judges in Libya are independent, and as evidence they not always get along with the executive authorities. They are educated and hold high degrees from abroad … I beg everyone to listen to the voice of the brain to keep our development, maintain the country and the lives of the people. Who will win? If Al Jazeera did this act, will Qatar or the employees of Al Jazeera win?
AJ: Allow me sir: Libyan ambassadors in a number of Arab capitals have resigned because they were watching Al Jazeera?
KAG: No, no. never.
AJ: Then explain to me … Your ambassadors around the world resigned because they watched Al Jazeera?
KAG: I spoke to the brothers and the head of our mission in New York, Abdelrahmnan Shelgum, and I told him to invite a crew from CNN - and that the brothers who spoke from the mission about massacres in Tripoli, and other areas, should wait and see after the crew can go on a tour.
AJ: So you say CNN is welcome and you have arranged a tour in all of Libya, yet we are forbidden? You gave certificates of good conduct to all channels but Al Jazeera? So all channels in the world are good, and you gave them a certificate of endorsement, apart from Al Jazeera?
KAG: Al Jazeera’s professionalism is at stake
AJ: If the professionalism of Al Jazeera is so bad, why are you talking to us?
KAG: I speak to you, because you spread rumours. I personally beg you...
AJ: This is another reason: If we are not fair and make things up, why don’t you let us go there and report?
KAG: Please allow me, this is a historic responsibility - me and you will not live for ever - this life is not for ever. We have a responsibility before our people and the nation, please try to look for accuracy. You said Gaddafi left to Venezuela – but each person who travels in a private plane needs a plan and permission.
AJ: We didn’t say that, that information came from officials like British FM and some Libyan diplomats. How do you explain the resignation of the justice minister?
KAG: I haven’t heard until this moment that he had resigned. For your information, I will call him to check.
AJ: This news was covered by all media. A minister resigns and you tell us you haven’t heard about it?
KAG: I swear by my honour - and by Allah - that I haven’t heard it.
AJ: Allow me, because frankly I didn’t fully digest your answers and the call to media apart from Al Jazeera. I stress once again, if Al Jazeera was giving the wrong picture, if we exaggerate and fabricate, then it’s a priority to invite us rather than other channels - and since you are talking to us, this is an evidence that you think this is an influential channel.
Let us in and we promise to reflect what we see. Will you allow this crew? We will have correspondents and we will not allow or give a chance to anyone to fabricate because we will see things with our own teams. Will you allow us in and guarantee the safety of our crew? We will be there tomorrow.
KAG: [Not] until Al Jazeera proves itself otherwise.
AJ: And till you also prove otherwise, this answer is not convincing.
On air with Al Jazeera
AJ second anchor: OK sir, you asked to speak to Al Jazeera now, this is what I understand, that you demanded to appear live on Al Jazeera. So if you don’t trust us, why did you ask to be on our air?
KAG: I am here in Tripoli, and you could hear if there was bombardment
AJ: This, frankly, wasn’t what I asked you. I asked you a clear and direct question. Why are you talking to us now?
KAG: I asked to speak to you out of anger and sorrow at this poor performance - and to make you understand that you alone do not own the airwaves and there are other channels that can provide the truth. You have one day to prove your credibility, then we will invite you. You have a challenge before you now - if you prove your credibility from today until tomorrow, you will be invited [into Libya]. But if you continue your misleading campaign, we will only allow real news that have sources.
AJ: So we will be under the test you set for us. With all respect, until we prove our “good conduct”, then you will invite us. But other channels are all good and report everything. OK. Now what about the jamming of our signal coming from Libya, as specialist companies report…
KAG: Until that is proven…
AJ: No, there is a report from these companies, and I can send it to you.
KAG: OK, send it to me.
AJ: And tomorrow, a foreign media tour?
KAG: Libyan state TV transmits live.
AJ: But we only see pro-ruler demos.
KAG: It may be a poor performance from state TV
AJ: These channels that you invited also reported that Gaddafi left to Venezuela.
KAG: Yes, but they later said it’s not true. Al Arabiya, BBC Arabic, CNN…
AJ: Well, the denial came from officials in Venezuela. Anyway, since we are having a test, can you give us some indication what will be judged as to whether we passed or not. I mean, gives us some hints…
KAG: You are not allowed to scorn me.
AJ: That is not scornful, but a question.
KAG: Balanced coverage.
Communications "not cut"
AJ: Sir, how do you justify cutting telecommunications and phones today?
KAG: Telecommunications are not cut in Libya - and now am talking to you. Secondly, there are maybe a few arrangements by companies and maybe security arrangements - which is their right - and I am not aware what these arrangements are ... Communications are running and you can call anyone in Libya and you are talking to me now - and so [if lines were cut] how are people are posting on YouTube?
AJ: We are talking about Tripoli. OK. Tell us - how do you respond to US calls to Libya to stop the bloodbath?
KAG: There is no blood bath in Libya - and once the media crews arrive they will see with their own eyes. Also in Benghazi, you will see the evidence of some people who were protesting and causing havoc - and others who have some demands. And you or other broadcasts say there was bombardment in the Friday market - you are making people scared.
AJ: Again, we don’t have crews there - so how can we look?
KAG: I say the water proves the diver wrong – Al Jazeera preemptively launched a campaign of rumours about Libya, and that led to a reaction among the people - and they chanted “Al Jazeera lying” and “Al Jazeera are agents”.
AJ: And in return, there were pro Al Jazeera chants and people apologising to Al Jazeera on the others’ behalf.
KAG: This is not me, it’s the people who said it ... Because there is a general sense here that Al Jazeera reports news that is not certain or verified and a sense that Al Jazeera is leading a systematic campaign against Libya for a reason we need to know. Why are the brothers in Al Jazeera - or maybe the government of Qatar – doing this? That also raises a question: Why doesn’t Al Jazeera talk about Qatar’s relations with Israel, or talk about Al Udaid and Al Siliyeh bases - or talk about the coup of the son over his father?
AJ: This is a viewpoint, but this is not our topic today. When there’s an event in Udaid or Qatar, we will be tested and if there are major developments in Qatar we will be tested and we will cover it - and if we didn’t, then we are not professional channel. But now the event is not in Qatar, now the event is in Libya and state TV shows songs and dancing - is this professional?
KAG: This is the view from the street.
AJ: Khaled Al Ga’aeem, thank you for joining us, sir. You’ve been the perfect representative of the regime.