The International Federation of Journalists has criticised the interim government of Iraq over a month-long ban on the Arab satellite channel Al-Jazeera, which it says is an act of “unacceptable and illogical censorship that casts a shadow over hopes for a new era of press freedom.’
The interim government ordered the Qatar-based Al Jazeera satellite television network to close its Baghdad office for one month at the weekend. The Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said a commission had been monitoring Al Jazeera for the past four weeks to see whether it was inciting violence and hatred, and that the decision had been taken "to protect the people of Iraq".
Although the Iraqi Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib claims satellite channels were encouraging kidnappings by showing images of hostages threatened with executions and officials say Al-Jazeera had "encouraged criminals and gangsters" in Iraq, the IFJ says that the action appears to be an attempt to silence a persistently independent voice that has fallen out with a number of Arab regimes over its robust journalism.
“The ban on this station sends a bleak message to all of those who are hoping that democracy will take root in Iraq and the region,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. "Al-Jazeera is doing no more than its counterpart organizations in the west and around the world. To single them out in this way is unacceptable and illogical censorship.”
Over the past year the station has reported videotaped statements from militant groups, including al-Qaeda, and all major television channels have made similar broadcasts. The station has been critical of some Arab governments and has drawn fierce criticism from United States leaders for its fiercely independent coverage.
“It is ironic that only a few weeks ago Al-Jazeera unveiled its own code of ethics to ensure balanced and sensitive reporting,” said White. “It is impossible not to come to the conclusion that this action is driven by political motives and by people in power who would prefer some of the political realities in Iraq not to be so vividly exposed to public scrutiny.”
The IFJ is appealing to the Iraqi authorities to think again over its ban on the station. “Censorship is no answer to the current crisis. It will only make matters worse and increase public uncertainty and anxiety,” said White.
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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries