The International Federation of Journalists today condemned reports that the Iraqi Governing Council is threatening to expel two Arab satellite networks from Baghdad, accusing the Council of undermining media freedom by attempting to stifle challenging and independent voices.
Peace and democracy will not be achieved by gagging the media, said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “That will only reinforce widespread fears that the war in Iraq has been not been fought to bring fundamental rights to the people.
The IFJ says that the council should back down from threats to expel correspondents from Qatar-based Al-Jazeera Television and Al- Arabiya, based in the United Arab Emirates, who are accused of incitement to violence against the occupation forces. If there are problems of ethics and quality in broadcasts, these should be dealt with professionally without resorting to threats and intimidation, said White.
The IFJ intervened after Samir Shakir Mahmoud al-Sumaidy, head of the Council's media committee, told The Guardian in London that the Council had resolved to take firm action against the two networks, although it is not clear whether the Governing Council, which is little more than an advisory body, has the power to expel journalists.
“The Arab networks have provided millions of Arabs in the region and around the world with a view that does not follow the line of strategy and policy of the White House,” said White. He said that the frustration of the US and its allies has been reflected in a series of events, which suggests a concerted strategy designed to isolate and intimidate Arab networks, particularly Al-Jazeera.
Two missile strikes against Al-Jazeera offices in Basra and Baghdad during the Iraq campaign earlier this year left one reporter dead and mirrored a similar attack in Afghanistan two years ago when US troops destroyed the Al-Jazeera Kabul office.
“At the same time there have been numerous detentions, arrests and confiscation of media equipment and footage,” said White. Last week the IFJ protested strongly over the jailing of Tayseer Allouni, the veteran Al-Jazeera correspondent in Madrid, who has interviewed Osama Bin Laden and now faces charges over connections with the terrorist group Al-Qaeda.
“All of this suggests a concerted campaign to intimidate dissident voices,” said White. The IFJ says that senior figures in the Bush Administration – such as Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who in July accused Al-Jazeera and Al- Arabiya of “slander” over their reporting – are creating a “dangerous atmosphere” in which victimisation of Arab journalists might follow.
“The Governing Council should lower the temperature and support professionalism in media before turning to draconian measures that undermine free expression,” said White.
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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries