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Iraq council curbs two Arab TV channels
( 2003-09-24 09:22) (Agencies)

Iraq's U.S.-backed Governing Council said Tuesday it would limit the operations of two Arab satellite channels it accused of "encouraging terrorism."

The council said the temporary action against Qatar-based Al Jazeera and Dubai-based Al Arabiya was intended as a clear message to other channels that might stir unrest among Iraqis. But it stopped short of a threatened full ban.

U.S. forces face daily attacks from guerrilla fighters seeking to drive them from Iraq. Dissatisfaction with the occupation is aggravated by grave shortcomings in many basic services such as water and electricity.

"Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya have breached the guidelines by endangering stability and democracy and by encouraging terrorism," the Council said in a statement.

"The Governing Council has decided as a warning and a temporary measure to ban Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya from covering council activities and official press conferences, and to deny their correspondents access to ministries and council buildings for two weeks," the council said in a statement.

The council would closely monitor the channels' output, it added.

A spokesman for the council chairman had said the stations' Iraqi operations would be shut temporarily, for promoting political violence and putting "terrorists" on screen.

The administration has promised media freedom in Iraq, and says it will close media outlets only if they are guilty of inciting violence.

In Dubai, Arabiya said it had received no official notification and was still operating normally.


"We are trying to cover all aspects of the situation in Iraq as objectively as possible, and that includes allowing our channel to be a forum for everyone in Iraqi society, be they opposition, the Americans or the government," Abdul Sattar Ellaz, program editor for Al Arabiya, told Reuters.

Al Jazeera said it was dismayed.

"Its victims are the truth, because it will be more difficult to give the full picture, and freedom of the press," spokesman Jihad Ballout told Reuters.

"But the main victim may be the council itself, as it might lag in making its voice reach the Arab public, the majority of which are Al Jazeera viewers."

Both stations are widely watched in Iraq by satellite. Both have aired tapes of ex-president Saddam Hussein encouraging Iraqis to fight the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

Paris-based media rights group Reporters Sans Frontieres (Reporters Without Borders) and the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists both said the council's decision was a bad sign.

"When media like Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya report on terrorist groups or extremist political parties calling for violent and armed action, these media are not guilty of inciting violence," Secretary-General Robert Menard said in a statement.

"They are carrying out their job of informing, in tackling, from a journalistic point of view, an important fact: terrorism."

The Committee to Protect Journalists said the Iraqi authorities should be encouraging open media.

"Penalizing news organizations sends the wrong message and raises serious questions about how Iraqi authorities will handle their broadcast or publication of negative news," the CPJ's Middle East program coordinator Joel Campana said.

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