CPJ condemns closure of Arab news channel

November 24, 2003—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemns today’s closure of the Iraq offices of the Dubai-based satellite news channel Al-Arabiyya.

The U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council announced today that the station’s Baghdad-based news operations were banned from working in Iraq for an indefinite period, according to press reports.

The move came after the station aired an audiotape on November 16 purportedly of Saddam Hussein urging Iraqis to resist the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq.

“We have decided to ban Al-Arabiyya for a certain time because it broadcast an invitation to murder, an incitement to murder by the voice of Saddam Hussein,” said council President Jalal Talabani, according to Agence France-Presse.

Al-Arabiyya News Director Saleh Negm told CPJ he received a written statement from the council stating that Al-Arabiyya’s equipment had been confiscated, and that its staff was barred from working in Iraq under penalty of fines and up to one year in prison. Negm said the statement added that the ban would remain in effect until Al-Arabiyya could guarantee that it would abide by unspecified “rules.”

Mowaffak al-Rubaie, a member of the council who heads its Media Committee, accused Al-Arabiyya of “inciting violence, encouraging sectarian rifts, and encouraging terrorism.” He said the broadcast of the recent Saddam Hussein tape was not the only reason for the closure. Without providing details, Al-Rubaie alleged that on two previous occasions, the station had reported acts of violence before they occurred. He also accused Al-Arabiyya correspondents of encouraging masked militants to make inciting statements on air. Negm told CPJ he adamantly denies both charges and alleges that U.S. and Iraqi officials are waging a smear campaign against the station because they think its coverage is too negative.

In September, the council barred reporters from Al-Arabiyya and the Qatar-based broadcaster Al-Jazeera from covering official press conferences and from entering official buildings for two weeks for alleged incitement but would not give specific examples. Foreign correspondents, meanwhile, have complained of heavy-handed treatment from U.S. troops, including the detention of reporters and attempts to block them from covering news events.