“Can we get a clean shot from here?” It was summer 2002, a typically muggy day in Washington DC, and I was standing with three obviously middle-eastern men on a rooftop overlooking the White House. A producer, a reporter and a cameraman were discussing the possible camera angles from a building on H Street that a Qatar-based TV channel, intent becoming an international 24hr news channel to rival the BBC, was considering for its Washington news bureau. As a specialist designer of broadcast facilities I was helping them evaluate real estate options. Belatedly realizing that in a post-9/11 America such a conversation might draw unexpected attention I quickly scanned the surrounding rooftops and noticed several large men in very clean overalls and sunglasses pretending to perform maintenance on the air-conditioning installations. I caught a momentary reflection from their direction and found myself hoping it was from a pair of binoculars and not a telescopic gun-sight. We decided to leave the roof in a hurry.
A suitable space was found on K Street with windows at ground floor level – a perfect metaphor for the open and transparent news gathering that was intended. However, with the tide of fear and suspicion that was everywhere and Virginia’s rather lax gun laws we reluctantly decided that allowing the public a view of the studio through the big plate glass windows made the channel too tempting a target and the studio was walled in. I found it somehow encouraging that while Administration officials were busy denouncing the channel for broadcasting Osama bin Laden’s videos, press passes were readily issued for its reporters to attend White House and Pentagon briefings. It seemed a small victory for American values. Ten years on the channel is recognized as one of the significant forces that helped shape the “Arab Spring.” It turned out that more speech, free speech, even in Arabic makes a difference.
--written by Hans Knutzen, Architect, New York
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