TV stations sanctioned

New York, September 23, 2003—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply troubled by the decision of Iraq’s Governing Council to sanction Arabic satellite channels Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiyya.

Today, Iraq’s U.S.-appointed Governing Council announced that it would bar the broadcasters’ reporters from covering official press conferences and from entering official buildings for two weeks, according to press reports and a Governing Council source.

Reuters quoted Entifadh Qanbar, spokesman for council chairman Ahmed Chalabi, as saying that the decision came because the stations incite “sectarian differences in Iraq,” “political violence,” and the murders of Governing Council and U.S. Coalition members.

The Associated Press (AP) quoted council officials as saying that the stations also failed to disclose information about pending attacks on U.S. troops.

It is not clear what specific broadcasts prompted the sanctions.

“CPJ finds these sanctions deeply troubling,” said CPJ Middle East Program Coordinator Joel Campagna. “Penalizing media outlets sets a poor precedent and raises serious questions about how Iraqi authorities will handle the broadcast or publication of negative news. The Governing Council should encourage open media.”

AP journalist detained
In a separate development, the AP reported that today, U.S. soldiers detained its photographer Karim Kadim and his driver Mohammed Abbas near Abu Ghraib, just outside Baghdad. According to the AP, both men were handcuffed and forced to stand in the sun for three hours while being denied water and the use of a telephone. “Soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 70th Armored Regiment, 1st Armored Division kept their guns trained on them, despite repeated attempts to explain they were journalists,” the AP said.

“We identified ourselves from the very beginning as press, even before we approached the troops. I was asked not to take any pictures and I didn’t. We were told to leave and we walked away, and then one of them shouted at us to come back,” Kadim was quoted as saying. A US military official later apologized for the incident, calling it a “misunderstanding.”