World Journalists Condemn "Knee-Jerk Censorship" in Voice of America Taliban Row

The International Federation of Journalists today warned governments to keep their hands off the news agenda and not to resort to "knee-jerk censorship" after an attempt by the State Department of the United States to suppress a Voice of America broadcast that included an interview with Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar.

"Governments must not use the current crisis as an excuse to compromise the credibility of journalism by trying to suppress opinions they don't like," said Aidan White, General Secretary of the IFJ, the world largest journalists' group. "People need the truth today, not propaganda if they are to make sense out of the chaos of recent events."

He was speaking after Voice of America journalists had protested over attempts by US government officials to block the broadcasting of a programme item that included the controversial interview, but set it in the context of broader issues with quotes from President Bush and opposition figures in Afghanistan.

As a result of the protests attempts to quash the broadcast were overturned and the item was transmitted yesterday with minor changes. The Voice of America is funded by US taxpayer but, like the BBC World Service in the UK and Germany's Deutsche Welle, which are similarly dependent upon public funding, it aims to be professionally independent.

"This incident shows just how strong is the instinct to manipulate news and information to suit military and political strategy," said Aidan White, "At a time when the talk of war is very much in the air, people need public broadcasting to be accurate, reliable and of the highest quality. That means governments must keep their hands of the news. Journalism is always best when it is left in the hands of responsible media professional."