<i>Al-Jazeera</i> Under Fire: IFJ Condemns Iraqi Ban and Canada’s “Bizarre” Restrictions

The International Federation of Journalists today condemned the decision by the Iraqi interim government to impose an indefinite ban on the Arab satellite channel Al-Jazeera after a raid on the company’s offices at the weekend.

“Journalists inside and outside Iraq will be dismayed at this significant blow to hopes for democracy and free expression,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “Iraq cannot shake off the legacy of war, intolerance and an era of tyranny by closing down independent voices just because rulers disagree with what they say.”

Iraqi security officers raided the channel’s Baghdad offices at the weekend after the interim government temporarily banned the station from broadcasting last month apparently because it failed to support the US occupation. Officials say it has now been shutdown indefinitely.

The IFJ has also raised concerns over “bizarre and confused” restrictions imposed by Canadian broadcasting regulators on cable companies that show the channel.

Apparently Canadian regulators have allowed the station to broadcast and deemed it a reputable media source, but they say programming must be monitored and tapes reviewed before going public. Al-Jazeera claim this restriction targets them and that such restrictions do not exist in other countries such as the United States and Israel – whose governments have been among stern critics of the station.

“This is an unacceptable and unprecedented intrusion that compromises the rights of Arab speakers in Canada,” said White. “Cable companies will not take any channel if regulators impose bizarre and confused restrictions.”

The channel’s reports on the Iraq conflict are made from a distinctly Arab perspective and have offended some people within the US administration. It has also been criticised by certain Arab countries for some of its coverage of Middle East governments.

The IFJ said that the culture of independence within Arab broadcasting was a new and potentially exciting development for free expression in the region.

Al-Jazeera and other satellite channels are forging ahead with challenging journalism that puts governments on the spot,” said White. “Restrictions are just not justified.”

The IFJ says that the Iraqi ban should be lifted, as should restrictions imposed on Al-Jazeera in Canada.

The IFJ claims nervousness about Al-Jazeera is more a question of political sensitivity than professional concern. “This channel has gone public with its efforts to establish clear standards of professionalism, yet political influences, both inside Iraq and elsewhere, are undermining it in ways that pose threats to free expression,” said White.

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