26 September 2003, Volume
COUNCIL OF ULAMA TO 'FIGHT ENEMY PROPAGANDA' IN AFGHANISTAN.
Afghan Chief Justice Mawlawi Fazl Hadi Shinwari said Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai has approved the establishment of a 2,600-member Council of Ulama of Afghanistan (CUA) to contest enemy propaganda and preach Islam, the Jalalabad-based newspaper "Nan" reported on 17 September. According to Shinwari, the CUA will soon begin its work in all Afghan provinces to counter enemy propaganda labeling the current Afghan government as infidels. He said each province will have 80 ulama (religious scholars) in the CUA. Shinwari said the Karzai administration is "an Islamic and legal state" and war against it "is not jihad but insurgency and immorality." The chief justice said the CUA will be "perfectly independent and permanent." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 September)CABLE TV BANNED IN NANGARHAR PROVINCE.
Cable-television broadcasts have been banned in Jalalabad, capital of Nangarhar Province at the order of the province's judicial department, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 23 September. Anyone who fails to abide by the ban will be prosecuted, according to the report (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 September 2003). Last December, the Afghan Supreme Court ordered cable networks not to broadcast Western and Indian programs that show men and women singing and dancing together because they could be offensive to Islamic and local culture, AP reported on 22 September. News and sports channels were permitted. Last week authorities halted operations of the Afghan Cable Center in Jalalabad, saying they had violated the ban. The company's head denied any infringements, and said he expected the ban to be lifted soon and a commission of censors to monitor content to be installed, AP reported. CAF
PARLIAMENT SPEAKER REJECTS CALLS TO DECRIMINALIZE LIBEL.
Artur Baghdasarian told a parliament session on 22 September that the Armenian authorities see no reason to yield to international pressure to decriminalize libel, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. He pointed out that libel is regarded as a criminal offense in "many European countries." At the same time, Baghdasarian conceded that it is unfair that libel of a government official carries a harsher penalty than libel of a private person. In an open letter to Baghdasarian in June, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and several Western ambassadors in Yerevan appealed for the removal from the new Criminal Code of the article that envisages prison terms of up to three years for people found guilty of libel (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 26 June 2003). ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 September)JOURNALISTS PROTEST NEW MEDIA BILL, AS PARLIAMENT APPROVES IT IN FIRST READING.
A group of Armenian journalists picketed the parliament building on 23 September to protest the anticipated passage in its first reading the following day of a controversial media bill, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Debate on the bill in the previous parliament was postponed indefinitely in late March following similar protests (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 March and 2 April 2003). The National Press Club issued a statement on 20 September suggesting that the rationale for passing a new media law at this juncture is to preclude broad public discussion of new proposals on resolving the Karabakh conflict, Noyan Tapan reported on 23 September. The same agency reported on 12 September that the National Press Club has drafted an alternative media bill. As anticipated, deputies voted on 24 September by 69-9 with one abstention in favor of the controversial media bill that journalists claim will impose restrictions on reporting, Noyan Tapan reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 25 September)
VIOLENCE AGAINST JOURNALISTS INCREASES AS ELECTION APPROACHES.
Arif Ariev, chairman of New Generation, one of Azerbaijan's three professional associations of journalists, said that violence against reporters is growing as the 15 October deadline approaches, RFE/RL reported on 25 September. "As we are getting nearer to the elections, journalists are working under increased physical pressure and experiencing growing difficulties in collecting and circulating information. Since the beginning of the [month], journalists have been beaten in Nakhichevan [Autonomous Republic]'s Sadarak District, in Baku, in Masalli, in Lankaran. Photojournalists and television cameramen have had their equipment confiscated or destroyed. People have been arrested under various fallacious pretexts, as it happened in Nakhichevan when journalists were detained for three days. Of great concern to us is also the fact that while all this is taking place, no one is being punished," Ariev said. The Prosecutor-General's Office has opened criminal investigations into some of the recent violence involving police officers and reporters, but its conclusions have not been made public yet. One of the most serious incidents occurred on 8 September, when law enforcement forces assaulted reporters in front of the Baku police headquarters. The journalists were covering the arrival of a Popular Front activist, Fuad Mustafaev, for questioning when policemen suddenly punched them, threw them to the ground, and kicked them. Several reporters were detained and endured further mistreatment while in custody. Ariev called the violent incidents "a deliberate policy aimed at intimidating independent and opposition journalists." ("Azerbaijan: Violence Against Opposition, Journalists Increases Ahead Of Presidential Election," rferl.org, 25 September)
DAILY CONFESSES TO TELLER HOAX.
Hungary's "Nepszabadsag" daily admitted on 17 September that it published a bogus letter that was purported to have been written by nuclear physicist Edward Teller shortly before his recent death in the United States. Attributed to the Hungarian-born physicist who played a crucial role in the development of the hydrogen bomb and appearing on 15 September, the letter criticized Hungary's conservative opposition for behaving "like an internal enemy rather than a political opposition." "Nepszabadsag" conceded that the letter was written by a retired journalist who claimed to have been in contact with Teller before the controversial scientist died. The "letter" triggered a storm of protest in Hungary's increasingly fractious political arena, with the opposition FIDESZ party saying the newspaper "disgraced...Teller's memory." Teller was an avowed anticommunist, and his friends said he was unlikely to have backed Hungary's current Socialist-led government, which includes a number of former communists. Media groups demanded the resignation of the "Nepszabadsag" editor, with the Hungarian Electronic Press Association (MEUSZ) saying that "Hungarian journalism has hit a new low," Reuters reported on 17 September. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 September)
INTELLIGENCE MINISTRY OFFICIAL CHARGED WITH KILLING CANADIAN JOURNALIST.
The Tehran Prosecutor's Office announced on 22 September that a Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) agent has been charged with the "semi-premeditated murder" of Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi, AP reported. An anonymous judiciary official said 23 September that an Iranian court will try the intelligence agent said to be responsible for the death. Kazemi was beaten to death after authorities detained her on 23 June. The MOIS official was not identified, but according to AP he is one of the two officials who was charged previously. Moreover, according to the statement from the Prosecutor's Office, no government institution is responsible for Kazemi's death. Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi and Canadian Foreign Minister Bill Graham discussed the cases of Kazemi and Iranian immigrant Keyvan Tabesh on the sidelines of the United Nations conference in New York on 23 September, IRNA reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 24 September)
GOVERNING COUNCIL BANS AL-JAZEERA, AL-ARABIYAH FOR TWO WEEKS.
The Iraqi Governing Council voted on 22 September to ban the Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiyah satellite channels from covering official activities in Iraq for two weeks, international media reported on 23 September. Entifadh Qanbar, spokesman for Ahmad Chalabi, the council's president for the month of September, said the measure was to "protect the Iraqi people from the poisonous propaganda aired by these two channels and in sowing sectarian and racial sedition in Iraq." The news channels are banned from "covering council activities and official press conferences" and from entering ministries and council buildings for the next two weeks, the Governing Council said in a statement, Reuters reported on 23 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 September 2003). Al-Jazeera ran an animated editorial cartoon on its website at http://english.aljazeera.net showing a figure labeled "Arab media" jumping on a trampoline to get a glimpse over the wall of a fortress marked "Governing Council." To compete with Al-Jazeera and other Arab news channels, the Bush administration plans to start its own 24-hour, Arab-language satellite-television network by year's end, AP reported on 25 September. U.S. spokesmen have said Al-Jazeera provides a platform for terrorists and incites attacks against coalition soldiers. CAFEXPLOSIONS ROCK HOTEL, MOVIE THEATER.
One person was killed and two others wounded in an explosion outside a Baghdad hotel on 25 September, Al-Arabiyah television reported. The hotel housed employees of the U.S.-based NBC television network. A Somali security guard was killed in the blast. Iraqi police said the bomb had been placed in a hut that housed the hotel generator, BBC reported. The incident appears to mark the first time that Western media have been attacked in Iraq since the downfall of the Hussein regime. A movie theater in the northern city of Mosul was targeted one day earlier, when a hand grenade went off inside the theater, killing two and wounding about 20 others, Al-Jazeera reported on 24 September. Eyewitnesses said the theater was showing a pornographic film at the time of the explosion. ("RFE/RL Newsline, 25 September)MUZZLED PRESS COVERAGE?
CNN's international correspondent Christiane Amanpour has sparked a debate about how the press has been covering the war in Iraq. Last week on the talk show "Topic A with Tina Brown" on CNBC, Amanpour said, "I think the press was muzzled, and I think the press self-muzzled." Television -- even her own employer -- "was intimidated by the administration and its foot soldiers at Fox News," she said. "It's better to be viewed as a foot soldier for Bush than spokeswoman for Al-Qaeda," nypost.com reported a Fox spokeswoman as retorting on 16 September. CNN news chief Jim Walton said he had a "private conversation" with Amanpour, but did not take any disciplinary action and said she was expressing her own opinion, not that of CNN. He denied the station had muted its coverage. Analysts have contrasted Amanpour's statements with a frank account of war coverage by veteran journalist John Burns of "The New York Times" in a new book, "Embedded: The Media at War in Iraq, an Oral History," by Bill Katovsky and Timothy Carlson. In an excerpt made available at editorandpublisher.com on 15 September, Burns describes how Saddam Hussein's press "minders" controlled foreign correspondents -- and how they cooperated for the sake of keeping their presence in Iraq by placating the information minister, "taking him out for long candlelit dinners, plying him with sweet cakes, plying him with mobile phones at $600 each for members of his family, and giving bribes of thousands of dollars. Senior members of the information ministry took hundreds of thousands of dollars of bribes from these television correspondents who then behaved as if they were in Belgium. They never mentioned the function of minders. Never mentioned terror." Burns said CNN was muzzled -- but by the Iraqi Information Ministry, which once expelled the station for not filing stories from its facility as required. CAF
POLICE SAY INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST'S DEATH ACCIDENTAL.
Police in the town of Kara-Suu in southern Kyrgyzstan investigating the death of journalist Ernis Nazalov say it was an accident, the government daily "Vechernyi Bishkek" reported on 24 September. The journalist's body was fished out of a canal in Kara-Suu Raion in southern Kyrgyzstan on 15 September, the "Moya stolitsa" website (http://www.msn.kg) reported on 22 September. A medical examiner reported finding no signs of violence on the body. Investigators say Nazalov was last seen at a wedding celebration, and they are assuming that he fell into the canal in the dark and was in no condition to save himself. Nazalov was a correspondent for the national newspapers "Kyrgyz Ruhu" and "Kyrgyz Ordo." He reportedly wrote a resignation letter shortly before his death, but it was left unsigned. Human rights activists are particularly interested in the case because Nazalov was known to be preparing to publish material on high-level corruption in Kyrgyzstan, and his records apparently have disappeared. Law-enforcers told "Vechernyi Bishkek" they found no evidence to support the opposition's claims that his death was related to his corruption probe. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 25 September)FOREIGN MINISTER REJECTS U.S. CONCERN OVER JOURNALISM IN KYRGYZSTAN.
Speaking to the annual OSCE-sponsored regional conference on media in Central Asia that opened in Bishkek on 17 September, Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Askar Aitmatov rejected concerns expressed recently by a U.S. State Department official about freedom of the press in Kyrgyzstan, akipress.org reported. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Lorne Craner, at a hearing of the U.S. congressional Helsinki Commission on 9 September, condemned Kyrgyz officials' use of criminal-libel charges against journalists and media outlets to stifle criticism, and cited the U.S. legal practice of requiring that officials prove malicious intent on the part of editors and journalists in cases of libel. Aitmatov said that neither Kyrgyz officials nor journalists are sufficiently mature for this practice to be introduced in Kyrgyzstan. In the minister's view, journalists first need to understand their responsibilities to society and to individuals. While officials should be open to public criticism, such criticism should be objective and based on solid evidence, he said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 September)
PRESS INSTITUTE CONDEMNS LEGAL HARASSMENT OF DAILY.
The Vienna-based International Press Institute (IPI) issued a press release on 18 September condemning the continued prosecution by the Polish authorities of Presspublica Sp. z.o.o., the publishing company of the daily newspaper "Rzeczpospolita." IPI says the prosecutor-general's reopening of the investigation is a form of politically motivated harassment. The case had previously been dropped after a determination that there was no evidence of any unlawful actions. IPI had previously come to the defense of the paper with a resolution at its 23 November 2002 board meeting. The charges stem from claims that the company suffered damages after paying financial compensation to an editor in chief who was dismissed in 2000. IPI believes Polish authorities are misusing the courts to gain editorial control over the daily by forcing the Orkla Media Group, the majority shareholder, through its subsidiary Presspublica Holding Norway, to sell its shares in Presspublica Sp. z.o.o. CAF
U.S., RUSSIAN JOURNALISTS APPEAL TO BUSH ON WORSENING CONDITIONS IN RUSSIA.
U.S. and Russian journalists have joined together in an appeal to U.S. President George W. Bush on the eve of his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, citing worsening working conditions in Russia and deteriorating press freedom and pressure on reporters in the run-up to elections in Russia. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a U.S.-based group defending colleagues worldwide and the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, a Moscow-based media freedom group said Putin had presided over an "alarming assault" on the independent media by failing to ensure prosecution of murderers of journalists (a dozen have been killed from 2000-03), tolerating police abuse of reporters, pulling independent television stations off the air, permitting the use of the criminal-defamation statutes to jail journalists, maintaining "a tight information blockade" in Chechnya, and approving overly restrictive amendments to the media law to curb allegedly "biased" political commentary during the forthcoming elections. CPJ also announced in a statement on its website (http://www.cpj.org) that among their 2003 International Press Freedom Awards will be Musa Muradov, editor in chief of "Groznenskii rabochy," a Chechen newspaper which Muradov is now forced to edit from Moscow. CAFDUMA COMMITTEE RECOMMENDS FIRING EDITOR OF PARLIAMENTARY NEWSPAPER.
The Duma's Rules Committee on 18 September recommended that the Duma fire Leonid Kravchenko as editor in chief of the official parliamentary newspaper "Parlamentskaya gazeta," Interfax reported. Kravchenko has headed the editorial staff of that publication since its inception in May 1998. An audit conducted in March and April of this year revealed inefficient use of budget funds at the newspaper in 2002. However, Kravchenko told gazeta.ru on 18 September that the effort to sack him is politically motivated and originated with "the comrades in Unified Russia" who want to take control of the media during the upcoming election campaign. Kravchenko also questioned the legality of the audit, since the Duma spent $50,000 in state funds to have it conducted by a private firm rather than by the Audit Chamber. Gazeta.ru noted that firing Kravchenko will require a vote in both the Federation Council and the Duma. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 September)DEPUTIES ASK CONSTITUTIONAL COURT TO TAKE UP FREE-SPEECH VIOLATIONS.
A group of State Duma deputies led by the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) will forward an appeal to the Constitutional Court this week claiming there have been massive violations of freedom of speech since the start of the parliamentary-election campaign, Russian media reported on 22 September. SPS leader Boris Nemtsov told Interfax on 22 September that 96 deputies representing all Duma factions except the pro-Kremlin Unity-Unified Russia faction have signed the appeal. Nemtsov said that since the campaign's start, de facto "censorship" of the media has been introduced and "the manipulation of public opinion" has begun. SPS Deputy Boris Nadezhdin said he would be happy if the Constitutional Court took up the appeal, which targets the recent amendments to the Election Code restricting what media can cover during a campaign, before next year's presidential election, gazeta.ru reported on 22 September. The website added, however, that there was practically no chance this would happen. Likewise, TsIK Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov told Ekho Moskvy the appeal is a "political maneuver" and predicted the Constitutional Court will ignore it. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 September)PROSECUTORS OFFICIALLY REQUEST EXTRADITION OF FORMER NTV OWNER.
The Prosecutor-General's Office has transmitted an official extradition request to the Greek Justice Ministry for former Russian mass-media tycoon and oligarch Vladimir Gusinskii, Russian media reported on 22 September. Gusinskii was arrested in Athens on 21 August under a Russian warrant and has been released on bail pending an extradition hearing (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August 2003). Russia accuses Gusinskii of fraud in connection with a loan of nearly $300 million. Gusinskii denies the accusations and maintains that they are politically motivated. Aleksandr Berezin, one of Gusinskii's lawyers, told journalists that the latest extradition request contains no charges against Gusinskii that were not in the request that was rejected by a Spanish court in 2001, lenta.ru reported on 22 September. He said that the lack of new evidence means that new request will be rejected under the legal principal against double jeopardy. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 September)LIBERAL LEADER SAYS INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST MIGHT HAVE BEEN MURDERED.
Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii said it cannot be ruled out that State Duma Deputy (Yabloko) and investigative journalist Yurii Shchekochikhin, who died in early July, was murdered, Interfax reported on 22 September. "The analysis of material received as the result of the autopsy continues in several specialized laboratories, and we have very alarming information," Yavlinskii told Ekho Moskvy. "It is still early to draw conclusions about the reason for Shchekochikhin's death, but there are grounds to assume that it was a violent death." Yavlinskii noted that Shchekochikhin, both as a journalist and a Yabloko member, was involved in "very serious" corruption investigations and was "a commentator of such a scale and so fearless that, undoubtedly, he hurt the interests of many." The Yabloko leader said the party will work together carefully with "Novaya gazeta," where Shchekochikhin was a deputy editor, to determine the cause of his death. Shchekochikhin died after suffering what media reports described as an "acute allergic reaction" ("RFE/RL Newsline," 23 September)CANDIDATES INVOKING NEW MEDIA LAW IN CAMPAIGNS.
Controversial new amendments to the media law designed to "end the freedom of lies" in smear campaigns in the words of Central Electoral Commission (TsIK) head Aleksandr Veshnyakov have already been involved in some campaigns, RFE/RL reported. In St. Petersburg, Anna Markova, a candidate running for governor against Kremlin-backed Valentina Matvienko, denounced as "campaigning" state television broadcasts showing President Putin wishing Matvienko good luck. While the TsIK admonished the stations, it failed to issue them warnings. The TsIK and later a court also cleared Matvienko and Putin of any wrongdoing. In Chechnya, a minor candidate went to court on similar grounds, saying television footage showed Kremlin-backed candidate Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov talking to Putin. His appeal was also rejected. In another case in St. Petersburg, the authoritative news weekly "Delo" was slapped with a warning for "violating campaign rules" after publishing a public opinion poll. "Delo" Editor in Chief Sergei Chesnyakov admitted he broke the law but said the law is impossible to respect if a newspaper wants to keep its pages "readable." The warning was later lifted by the TsIK.("Russia: Under New Media Laws, Journalists are Damned If They Do, Damned if They Don't," rferl.org, 19 September)LAW COULD PROVE 'FATAL' FOR SOME NEWSPAPERS, SAYS MEDIA WATCHDOG.
In an article recently published in "Izvestiya" and on gdf.ru examining the impact of the media law amendments, Glasnost Defense Foundation Director Aleksei Simonov said, "political differences between a newspaper and an electoral commission may prove fatal for the newspaper." Regional branches of the federal Media Ministry have warned colleagues that the political sympathies of regional electoral commissions may make the election campaigns unfair. "The amendments will not be a barrier to 'black PR," said Simonov, speaking of the widespread practice of smear campaigns in the press. As in the past, candidates and their backers are mass-producing newspapers and stuffing them in mailboxes. Since closure of a newspaper under the law could take 45-60 days, even if legal action is taken, the scandal sheets could still reach an audience. A positive aspect of the law is that it will be harder now for campaigners to release fake editions of real newspapers to confuse readers, due to new legal prohibitions on "clones," Simonov says. Law-abiding newspapers that are not pro-government, opposition, or oligarch-owned may be the hardest hit, he says. Smaller papers, especially in the provinces without their own lawyers, may find themselves destroyed if they cross local authorities, he says (see "Glasnost Defense Foundation Digest," No. 148, 8 September). CAF
OPPOSITION EDITOR JAILED IN EMBEZZLEMENT CASE.
Officials of the District Court in Kragujevac, Serbia, said on 18 September that they recently ordered the arrest of Montenegrin opposition newspaper editor Dusko Jovanovic because he failed to answer a summons in conjunction with an embezzlement case stemming from the sale of steel worth $434,000, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. In Podgorica, opposition leaders said they consider the arrest politically motivated. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic filed slander charges against Jovanovic and his daily "Dan" because of a recent article charging that Djukanovic is blocking investigations into a well-publicized human-trafficking case (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 June 2003). Jovanovic was once previously convicted of slandering Djukanovic. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 September)
CHRISTIAN DEMOCRATS TO BOYCOTT TV MARKIZA.
Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) spokeswoman Laura Dyttertova told CTK on 20 September that the KDH will boycott TV Markiza because of perceived biased coverage of the party and attacks on the KDH leadership. KDH politicians will neither give interviews to TV Markiza nor participate in any of the station's broadcasts, she said. The KDH also intends to launch a complaint with the electronic-media watchdog, the Slovak Broadcasting Council. Interior Minister Vladimir Palko (KDH) said on TV Markiza earlier this month that its reporters are "corrupt" and that the station -- which is partly owned by ANO Chairman Pavol Rusko -- is leading a smear campaign against him (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 September 2003). TV Markiza Editor in Chief Lubomir Karasek called the KDH decision "incorrect and impolite," according to TASR. Such methods, Karasek said, are not effective in a democracy. "Last time [such a tactic] was used against TV Markiza [was] by Vladimir Meciar in 1996-98. As we survived the boycott of [Meciar's] Movement for a Democratic Slovakia, I guess we shall survive the KDH boycott as well," he said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 22 September)
LEGAL ISSUES FOR BROADCAST LICENSING TO BE DISCUSSED IN MOSCOW.
The Moscow-based Media Law and Policy Institute, in cooperation with the Russian Union of Journalists, will hold an international conference in Moscow on the legal issues of broadcast licensing. The meeting is sponsored through a TACIS project of the European Union. Participants plan to compare issues emerging in Russian licensing with European experience and will discuss the concept of a draw law to govern a licensing body. Willem K. Altest of the Netherlands, Wolfgang Kelinwaghter of Germany, Aleksei Artishchev, Yassen Zassourskii, Yana Sklyarova, Stanislav Sheverdaev, Igor Yakovenko, lawyers, and Media Ministry officials are expected to be among the speakers. For more information see http://www.medialaw.ru. CAF
IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL'S BAN OF SOME ARAB TV SPARKS DEBATE ON FREEDOM
By Jeffrey Donovan
A two-week ban on the Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiyah television stations was announced yesterday in Baghdad by a spokesman for Ahmad Chalabi, president of the Iraqi Governing Council. Entifadh Qanbar told a news conference: "The Governing Council issued a resolution or a decree to close Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiyah satellite stations for violations and promoting sectarian differences in Iraq, promoting political violence, promoting killing of members of the Governing Council, promoting killing members of the U.S. coalition."
The council said the ban was imposed on two of the most popular television news stations in the Middle East because it suspected the stations had violated the rules by not disclosing information they had about pending attacks on U.S. troops.
Ayad Allawi, the head of the council's security panel, said Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiyah had also shown images of masked criminals calling for the liquidation of council members, which he said encourages acts of terrorism. They also broadcast graphic footage of dead U.S. soldiers and Iraqis. Spokesman Qanbar said, "We will not let them show images of U.S. soldiers being ripped apart."
The networks, which compete for the world Arab television audience, deny wrongdoing and say they provide balanced coverage of events in Iraq.
Two media rights groups have already criticized the council's move. Paris-based Reporters Without Borders called the decision "a bad sign," and said the networks' coverage of extremist groups is part of their work as journalists. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said the Iraqi authorities should be encouraging open media, not limiting it.
The move is sparking debate on the role of media in a fledgling democracy. Is shutting down a news organization, even if only for two weeks, the best example to set as Iraq seeks to build the first Arab democracy? RFE/RL posed that question to experts in America, which has had its own moments in history where extreme events such as war led to a limiting of democratic liberties.
Marilyn Greene, executive director of the World Press Freedom Committee, a Washington-based group that fights for media rights said, "We feel that this is a very poor example for a democracy to be setting in the name of creating a new democracy." He added, "To restrict the coverage of the news in an area based on someone's assessment that it might arouse or incite hatred or hateful activities is not, except in the most extreme cases, a reason for banishing a news organization from a coverage area."
But isn't Iraq an extreme case? U.S. soldiers are killed or wounded on almost a daily basis. A Governing Council member over the weekend was seriously wounded in an armed attack and later died. In August, a series of terrorist bombings left many killed. Last week, Al-Arabiyah ran an audio message, purportedly from toppled President Saddam Hussein, which called on Iraqis to take up arms against the U.S.-led coalition forces.
John Samples, the director of the Center for Representative Government at the Cato Institute, a private research group in Washington, said the ban may be justified. "I don't think there's an easy answer to this question," he said. "But I do know that the United States' answer has been, in those kinds of extreme situations, is that democracy is not a suicide pact." Samples said democracy faces a possible "suicide" when it refuses to take extraordinary measures, such as suspending legal rights, against forces that threaten its very existence.
U.S. history has a few examples where civil rights were suspended in such extraordinary circumstances. But whether or not it was the right thing is often still not clear. For example, during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s, President Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus, giving him the power to hold prisoners without being answerable to a court of law. And during World War II, when the U.S. was at war with Japan, Japanese-Americans were temporarily interned in camps. In 1976, then-U.S. President Gerald Ford apologized to Japanese-Americans for their internment, saying it had been wrong and unnecessary. Many of the survivors were later paid reparations.
More recently, civil rights activists have criticized the administration of President George W. Bush for measures that they say have deprived some terror suspects of the legal procedures that defendants are traditionally afforded under U.S. law.
Samples said he's not sure what's best for Iraq, but that in the current chaos, curtailing some press freedom may be necessary. "Right now, you don't have deliberative bodies, you don't have deliberative organs, you don't have the structure of a democracy or a republic in place," he said. "You have an occupying power and you have a country that is still obviously very unsettled and still maybe not in the middle of a war, but there's still violence going on. And so, we aren't really at a position where it has been settled. That's the argument that you're in an extraordinary situation, and even the country that is the oldest republic in the world at times of extremes has been willing to at least temporarily suspend it. And maybe the model is 'temporary.'" Samples added that if a suspension of rights lasts indefinitely, then democracy in Iraq may never get off the ground.
Greene of the World Press Freedom Committee said, however, it's impossible to create democracy without playing by its rules from the very beginning, regardless of how difficult the situation may be. "By suppressing conversation about a situation, it doesn't suppress feelings about it; you just drive them underground. The best thing for that situation right now is to air all sides of all arguments and get them out in the open. If they're unfair comments or untrue comments, get them out in the open and rebut them. But driving them underground and driving them away is not taking care of the essential issue," Greene said.
The U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority had no immediate comments about the council's decision.
The Qatar-based Al-Jazeera, which says it covers stories purely based on their news value, has won a reputation for being combative. Jordan, Bahrain, Libya, Morocco, and Algeria are among the countries that have closed Al-Jazeera's offices, expelled its correspondents, or withdrawn their diplomats from Qatar in protest of the station's coverage of local events. Earlier this year, Bush complained to Qatari Emir Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani about Al-Jazeera's broadcasting of tapes by Osama bin Laden, the alleged mastermind of the 11 September 2001 attacks on America.
Jeffrey Donovan is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Washington, D.C.