Journalism bodies blast Iraq move to suspend Al-Jazeera

Al-Jazeera: insists it will continue broadcasting after its office was closed

International organisations this week condemned the Iraqi government’s decision to suspend Arab news broadcaster Al-Jazeera from operating in the country for a month amid accusations of inciting violence.

The interim Iraqi government ordered the Qatar-based television news channel to close its Baghdad bureau for 30 days on Saturday. The move came as violence escalated from Najaf and spread to southern and central Iraq and the capital, Baghdad.

However, Al-Jazeera insisted it would continue broadcasting from Iraq despite the ban, saying the move was unjustified and contrary to pledges made by the interim Iraqi government “to start a new era of free speech and openness”.

The channel also said that the Iraqi police officers who arrived on Saturday evening to shut the operation down did not provide any legal documentation from an Iraqi court.

Al-Jazeera said it held the Iraqi authorities responsible for the safety of its staff in Baghdad and elsewhere in the country, but claims the demand to close its operation came as no surprise.

It added that the ban was a culmination of “difficulties” it had been facing from Iraqi officials for some time.

The broadcaster said officials had been “reacting negatively” to various requests it submitted.

In a show of solidarity with AlJazeera, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) criticised the ban.

“The ban on this station sends a bleak message to all of those who are hoping that democracy will take root in Iraq and the region,” said IFJ general secretary Aidan White. “Al-Jazeera is doing no more than its counterpart organisations in the West and around the world. To single them out in this way is unacceptable and illogical censorship.”

The Association of International Broadcasting (AIB) also protested at the channel’s closure, saying the move would do “nothing to aid the establishment of democracy and civil society in Iraq”, and that it damaged the Arab world’s perception of the fledgling Iraqi government.

“The restrictions placed on AlJazeera’s team working in Iraq may provide obstacles to the channel’s ability to report directly from the scene,” said AIB chief executive Simon Spanswick.

“However, the Iraqi government fails to understand the way in which modern television newsgathering operations function, as Al-Jazeera will have continued access to video footage and correspondents’ reports from the country thanks to its longstanding arrangements with the mainstream news agencies and with other broadcasters.”

By Wale Azeez

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