Iraq Ban on Arab TV Station “Plays Into Hands of Enemies of Democracy” Says IFJ

The International Federation of Journalists today criticised the Iraqi Governing Council which has banned the Arabic television station Al-Arabiya because it broadcast a tape recording said to be from Saddam Hussein.

“The interim rulers of Iraq are playing into the hands of the enemies of democracy by imposing the sort of censorship that was a hallmark of Saddam Hussein’s odious regime,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “This sort of thing will only encourage more rumour, speculation and uncertainty within a community already fearful about the future.”

The IFJ says that the ban, the second time action has been taken against the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya, undermines the credibility of the US-appointed Governing Council’s commitment to democracy. “This tape was published in Iraq and by news media all around the world because people need to know about what Hussein is up to,” said White.

The IFJ says that claims that broadcasting the tape was tantamount to incitement to murder were contested strongly by broadcasters. “These issues need to be resolved by proper professional examination of the charges and not with the heavy hand of political censorship,” said White.

Jalal Talabani, the current president of the Iraqi Governing Council, said Al-Arabiya would be banned for a "certain period of time" after the channel broadcast a recorded message on November 16th said to be from Saddam which called for new "resistance". The station’s Baghdad office has been closed. The station has rejected the charge that its broadcast incited murder and issued a statement saying that it “adheres to covering the news in an objective and precise manner."

The ban follows the introduction in September of a law (CPA/ORD/10 Jun 2003/14) banning media from inciting violence. Following that decision Al-Arabiya and Al-Jazeera television stations were banned from reporting on government activities for two weeks when they broadcast earlier messages purported to be from the ousted Iraqi president.

The IFJ and other media freedom groups criticised Order Number 14 of the Coalition Provisional Authority, but even so this law has won the support of the United States Government, including US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld who last week described Al-Arabiya and Al-Jazeera as "violently anti-coalition".

“It looks as though Arab media trying to report on the Iraq situation from an objective viewpoint are being targeted because they are broadcasting a message the US does not want to hear,” said White. “That will not win the peace or the confidence of the Arab community either inside Iraq or in the region.”

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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries