Governing council penalizes Al-Jazeera

New York, February 2, 2004—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemns the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council’s (IGC) decision to bar the Qatar-based satellite broadcaster Al-Jazeera from covering official IGC activities in Iraq.

Al-Jazeera’s Baghdad bureau chief, Majid Khader, told CPJ that he was informed on January 29 via e-mail that Al-Jazeera’s staff was barred from covering official IGC activities for one month, from January 28 to February 27. Khader said Al-Jazeera’s headquarters in Doha were informed of the decision in a fax.

Khader and Al-Jazeera spokesman Jihad Ballout said that journalists from the station were prevented from covering a January 29 press conference held by then IGC President Adnan Pachachi in Baghdad.

The Associated Press reported that the IGC had issued a statement on Saturday saying Al-Jazeera was banned from government offices and official press conferences because it had shown “disrespect to Iraq and its people and harmed prominent religious and national figures.”

Al-Jazeera’s Khader said the email he received from the IGC pointed to a controversial January 27, 2004, episode on its popular talk show, “Opposite Direction,” as the reason for the ban. The show, titled “Israeli Infiltration in Iraq,” featured an Iraqi Communist Party spokesman and an IGC spokesman and included allegations of Israeli attempts to assert political influence in Iraq. The Communist Party spokesman alleged, among other things, that some IGC members and Iraqi political figures have had relations with Israel or visited the country. He had even alleged that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had secretly visited Baghdad in December 2003.

“The IGC should welcome an open debate about Iraq’s future, even if it includes views that the IGC finds objectionable or distasteful” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “By continuing to penalize media in Iraq, the IGC discredits its professed support of a free press.”

It is unclear how strictly the ban will be enforced. Today, Al-Jazeera carried an interview with Dr. Muhsin Abd-al-Hamid, current chairman of the Iraqi Governing Council.

In November 2003, the IGC banned UAE-based satellite channel Al-Arabiyya from broadcasting in Iraq, accusing the station of incitement after it aired an audiotape purportedly of Saddam Hussein urging Iraqis to resist the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq. The station was allowed to resume broadcasting in late January. And in September 2003, the IGC barred reporters from both Al-Arabiyya and Al-Jazeera from covering official press conferences and from entering official buildings for two weeks for alleged incitement but did not give specific examples.