Al-Jazeera Cup broadcasts jammed from Jordan

Mysterious jamming of TV broadcasts of the Soccer World Cup by the Arabic satellite channel al-Jazeera has been traced to Jordan, which appears to have retaliated angrily after the collapse of a deal that would have allowed football fans there free access to the matches.

Millions of al-Jazeera Sports subscribers across the Middle East and North Africa cried foul on June 12 when the opening game between South Africa and Mexico was hit by interference which produced blank screens, pixelated images and commentary in the wrong languages. It occurred seven more times during the tournament’s biggest games.

Al-Jazeera protested that the jamming of the Nilesat and Arabsat satellites was an act of “sabotage”. There was speculation that Egypt or Saudi Arabia, both hostile to the channel, were involved, though the network has never named any suspects or gone public with the results of its own investigation.

But secret documents seen exclusively by the Guardian trace five episodes of jamming definitively to a location near as-Salt in Jordan, north-east of the capital, Amman, confirmed by technical teams using geolocation technology.

The co-ordinates identified were 32.125N 35.766E.
It is accurate to within a range of 3-5km.

Experts say the jamming was unlikely to have been done without the knowledge of the Jordanian authorities. “It was a very sophisticated case,” said one. Jamming involves the transmission of radio or TV signals that disrupt the original signal to prevent reception on the ground. It is illegal under international treaties.

Legal action
A Jordanian diplomat declined to comment on Wednesday, saying there had not been enough time to study the details.

Al-Jazeera had exclusive pay-TV rights to broadcast World Cup matches to all Arab and North African countries, and to Iran, and charged up to $160 for one-month subscription packages or cards to see the feed.

It may face legal action as a result of the jamming. In one case, angry fans ran riot at a cinema in Dubai, when poor reception ruined a match. English-speaking viewers had to cope with audio in Arabic or French.

The Jordanian government, like most Arab governments, makes no secret of its dislike for al-Jazeera, which is owned by the Qatari royal family.

The channel has a populist agenda with a strong emphasis on the Palestinian issue, a tilt towards Islamist groups, is critical of the US, and hostile to Israel. Jordan, like Egypt, has a peace treaty with the Jewish state.

Jordan’s King Abdullah, a keen football fan, sent a close adviser to negotiate the deal with al-Jazeera. When it collapsed on the eve of the games, one Jordanian official complained that the network’s stance was “based on a political agenda and has nothing to do with commercial or any other purposes. Al-Jazeera was and is punishing the Jordanian people, who have the love of sports in their blood”.

Sources at al-Jazeera HQ say Abdullah had earlier asked the channel to provide giant TV screens in public places where Jordanians could watch the games free. It refused, saying other Arab countries would expect similarly favourable treatment.

Al-Jazeera is also facing a $1,2-billion lawsuit in a US federal court by 90 Israeli civilians who were injured during the month-long Lebanon war in 2006, or are relatives of victims.

The plaintiffs claim that the network’s coverage was designed to help Hezbollah guerrillas better aim the missiles they fired into Israel during the conflict, in which 159 Israelis and 1 200 Lebanese were killed. -

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