'National interest' supersedes cabler's exclu pact with Al-Jazeera

NEW YORK — CNN won’t enforce its exclusive pact with Al-Jazeera Channel when it comes to breaking-news stories of national interest.

That’s the word from the cable news net, which said it will, however, protect its rights to any exclusive enterprise reporting.

“Yes, we have exclusivity. Yes, we think it’s enforceable. But we’re not going to enforce it in this unique circumstance because of the compelling national interest. We think it’s the right thing to do,” said a CNN spokesman.

Although the cable news net had signed an exclusive deal with Qatar’s Al-Jazeera, on Sunday, the other news orgs aired Al-Jazeera’s footage anyway, saying it fell under the fair-use rule.

Al-Jazeera, the only service broadcasting from within Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, aired live shots of bombs striking the capital city of Kabul, as well as a recorded videotape of Osama bin Laden on Sunday.

Al-Jazeera sent out a letter Monday saying that neither it nor CNN will take legal action against any of the nets that used its footage Sunday, but that they will in the future.

Al-Jazeera’s pact with CNN calls for the net to embargo any footage for six hours before releasing it to others.

“Any party that uses the Al-Jazeera footage without prior written consent of Al-Jazeera shall be in violation of this special agreement and shall face the legal consequences of its acts,” the net said in a letter.

On Monday morning, CNN aired a live interview that anchor Paula Zahn conducted with a reporter from Al-Jazeera in Kabul. A CNN spokesman said that interview is a good example of the enterprise reporting that would be exclusive to CNN.

“We hope to have the most exclusives and get the best pictures and have the best reporting,” said a CNN spokesman.

Network execs largely agreed that it’s unlikely they’ll use Al-Jazeera footage unless it is in the national interest. What that is is open to interpretation.

“The events which led to all of the networks using those images on Sunday were extraordinary and perhaps, ultimately, unique. That said, we have a duty to inform the American public, and we will continue to do so using our very best judgment,” said an ABC News spokesman.

A CBS News spokeswoman said the network is gratified that CNN changed its position on exclusivity, adding that “with America at war, some of the normal rules of broadcast competition should give way to a broader perspective of what is in the national interest.”

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