Read “Al Jazeera: Leave It to Viewers”
from the opinion page of the International Herald Tribune
by Joel Campagna, CPJ senior program coordinator for Middle East and North Africa.

New York, August 8, 2004—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemns yesterday’s decision by Iraq’s interim government to ban the Qatar-based news channel Al-Jazeera from working in Iraq for 30 days.

According to news reports, the interim government accused the station of incitement to violence and hatred. Prime Minister Iyad Allawi announced the decision at a Saturday, August 7, press conference, saying the action was taken to “protect the people of Iraq and the interests of Iraq.” The ban was effective immediately.

Allawi cited an Iraqi media commission report about Al-Jazeera’s broadcasts as the basis for the decision. He said the commission “came up with a concise report on the issues of incitement and the problems Al-Jazeera has been causing.” To CPJ’s knowledge, the commission’s report has not been made public.

Allawi added that Al-Jazeera’s reporting on kidnappings in Iraq had encouraged Iraqi militants, and he cited the station’s broadcast of a hoax videotape purported to show an American being beheaded in Iraq, according to a report in The New York Times. The station said it regretted broadcast of the tape.

A government statement on the ban accused Al-Jazeera of being a mouthpiece for terrorist groups and of contributing to instability in Iraq. The Associated Press quoted Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib as saying that Al-Jazeera has been “showing a lot of crimes and criminals on TV,” and that “they transfer a bad picture about Iraq and about Iraqis.” He charged that the station “encouraged the criminals and the gangsters to increase their activities in the country.”

“This appears to be a case of blaming the messenger for bad news, and it is a serious blow to press freedom in Iraq,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “Regrettably, the interim government has chosen to mimic the behavior of other governments in the region by restricting the work of Al-Jazeera. We urge the interim authorities to reverse their decision and to allow the station’s staff to conduct their professional duties without further interference.”