Tuesday, August 10, 2004

PR (NEW YORK): CPJ blasts Iraq's censorship of al-Jazeera (8-10-04)

Disputes accusations that station incited violence
Committee to Protect Journalists

330 Seventh Avenue,
New York, NY 10001 USA
Phone: (212) 465-1004
Fax: (212) 465-9568
Web: www.cpj.org
E-Mail: media@cpj.orghttp://www.cpj.org

Contact: Joel Campagna
e-mail: info@cpj.org
Telephone: (212) 465-1004

New York, August 10, 2004-The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) today sent a letter to Iraqi Prime Minster Iyad Allawi urging the Iraqi government to rescind the ban on the Qatar-based satellite news channel Al-Jazeera, which was barred from working in the country for 30 days on August 7.

In the letter, CPJ also disputed the Iraqi government's claim that thestation had incited violence and hatred.

"The Iraqi government may be unhappy with Al-Jazeera's coverage but has presented no evidence that the channel's reporting constitutes a deliberate attempt to incite violence inIraq, nor that it is likely to do so. This closure appears to be an attempt to sanction a news organization for its negative coverage of events insideIraq," wrote CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper.

A copy of the letter follows

August 10, 2004

His Excellency Iyad Allawi
Prime Minister Iraqi Interim Government
C/o Embassy of Iraq to the United States
1801 P St, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20036
Via Facsimile: (202) 462-5066

Your Excellency:

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) strongly protests the Iraqi interim government's closure of the Iraq offices of the Qatar-based satellite news channel Al-Jazeera. On August 7, the interim government barred Al-Jazeera from working in Iraqfor 30 days, accusing the station of incitement to violence and hatred,according to news reports.

Your Excellency announced the decision at a pressconference, noting that an Iraqi media monitoring body had produced a report"on the issues of incitement and the problems Al-Jazeera has been causing."You also said the ban was implemented to "protect the people of Iraq and theinterests of Iraq."

In justifying the government's decision, Your Excellency asserted that Al-Jazeera's reporting on kidnappings in Iraq had encouraged Iraqimilitants. Other Iraqi officials accused the station of being a mouthpiecefor terrorist groups; depicting criminal activity; creating a negative picture of events in Iraq; and contributing to instability in Iraq.

To CPJ's knowledge, the station was banned without any due process, and themedia commission's report has not been made public. Iraqi officials have also failed to provide further details to support their allegations. The closure of Al-Jazeera is a serious blow to press freedom in Iraq.

While we appreciate Iraqi government concerns about the security situation inIraq, we believe this action is unjustified. The Iraqi government may beunhappy with Al-Jazeera's coverage but has presented no evidence that thechannel's reporting constitutes a deliberate attempt to incite violence inIraq, nor that it is likely to do so.

This closure appears to be an attemptto sanction a news organization for negative coverage of events inside Iraq. Governments should be free to criticize news coverage, and there should bean open debate about professionalism and ethics in media coverage. The Iraq igovernment should be encouraged to engage with news organizations, such as Al-Jazeera, with which it disagrees.

But by adopting crude censorshipmethods, Iraqi authorities have damaged their credibility as a governmentthat supports the internationally guaranteed right to freedom of the press. One month ago, following your decision to re-open Al-Hawza newspaper-whichwas shuttered by the U.S.-backed Coalition Provisional Authority inMarch-you expressed your "absolute belief in the freedom of the press."

An organization of journalists dedicated to defending our colleaguesworldwide, CPJ calls on you to demonstrate this commitment by ensuring that Al-Jazeera is allowed to resume its work in Iraq immediately and withoutfurther harassment. We further call on you to ensure that media in Iraq arefree to conduct their professional work without further governmentinterference.Thank you for your attention to this important matter. We look forward toyour reply.

Ann K. Cooper
Executive Director

CC:American Society of Newspaper EditorsAmnesty InternationalArticle 19 (United Kingdom)Artikel 19 (The Netherlands)Canadian Journalists for Free ExpressionFreedom ForumFreedom HouseHuman Rights WatchIndex on CensorshipInternational Center for JournalistsInternational Federation of JournalistsInternational PENInternational Press InstituteLorne W. Craner, United States Assistant Secretary for Democracy, HumanRights, and LaborThe Newspaper GuildThe North American Broadcasters AssociationOverseas Press ClubReporters Sans FrontièresThe Society of Professional JournalistsWorld Association of NewspapersWorld Press Freedom CommitteeCPJ is a New York-based, independent, nonprofit organization that works tosafeguard press freedom worldwide. For more information, visit www.cpj.org.

Hani SabraResearcherMiddle East and North AfricaCommittee to Protect Journalists330 Seventh Avenue12th FloorNew York, NY 10001Tel: (212) 465-1004, x-104Fax: (212) 465-9568Web: www.cpj.org