Al-Jazeera news bureau in Baghdad is shut down

Iraqi prime minister says network's coverage encourages militants

August 08, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Prime Minister Ayad Allawi ordered yesterday the temporary closure of the television network Al-Jazeera's Baghdad bureau, the Arab world's primary source of news from Iraq, saying its extensive coverage of kidnappings has encouraged militants.

He said at a news conference that the network's office here would be shut for a month and that it would be allowed to reopen if the network addressed the government's concerns.

Al-Jazeera broadcasts to millions of Arab viewers from headquarters in Doha, Qatar.

The Bush administration has long criticized its coverage as biased against the United States. The network has a large bureau here and is frequently cited by Western news organizations because it provides coverage from areas deemed too dangerous for Western reporters.

It has broadcast videotapes provided by militant groups of hostages such as Nicholas Berg, the American who was beheaded in Iraq in May, a practice the Iraqi government opposes.

Allawi has tried to bring order to the chaos of kidnappings, vigilantism and rebel militias that has befallen Iraq. "We will not allow Al-Jazeera or anyone else to disturb the security in the country," Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib said.

Allawi pointed out a videotape broadcast yesterday by the network that appeared to show an American being beheaded as an example of the coverage he opposed. But the tape turned out to be a hoax.

"I am worried about these people," he said. "I am not worried about whether Al-Jazeera will like it or not."

The network, on its Web site, called the closing unjustified and said the decision "is contrary to pledges made by the Iraqi government to start a new era of free speech and openness."

Allawi brushed off criticism that the closing bode ill for freedom of the news media in Iraq, saying that the network's coverage of kidnappings encouraged terrorists and that immediate concerns of security for Iraqis were much more important.

He also said that he had asked an independent panel to evaluate the network's coverage of Iraq and that it had concluded the coverage advocated violence.

Some Iraqi journalists agreed with him. The network "doesn't always give the truth," said Kareem al-Yousif, one of the owners of Radio Dijla, a new radio station in Baghdad. "It doesn't give the Iraqi people their right. It's not on their side."

It was not the first time the Baghdad bureau was closed. Saddam Hussein shut it in 2002 and in January, and Iraq's Governing Council, which has been dissolved, closed it for what the council called inflammatory coverage.

Last night, the network ran live scenes of Iraqi police officers in the Baghdad bureau with Al-Jazeera lawyers, patiently explaining that they were simply trying to carry out orders.

A reporter for Al-Jazeera talked with the scene playing out behind him.

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