Iraqi Governing Council Bans Two Arab News Stations

Iraq's U.S.-appointed Governing Council (search) on Tuesday barred journalists from two leading Arab satellite news channels from government buildings and press conferences.

The council said the two-week ban was imposed on Al-Jazeera (search) and Al-Arabiya (search) -- two of the most popular television news stations in the Middle East -- because it suspected the stations had violated rules that include not disclosing information about pending attacks on American troops.

A spokesman for Ahmad Chalabi (search), the current Governing Council president, accused the stations of "inciting violence" against U.S.-led coalition forces and Iraqi officials.

"We hope other channels will draw a lesson from this decision," spokesman Entifadh Qanbar said.

Al-Jazeera spokesman Jihad Ballout said the station regretted the council decision but "will continue our work as usual until we are officially notified" of it, according to Al-Jazeera's Web site.

Reaction from Al-Arabiya was not immediately available.

Qanbar did not elaborate on what the two stations had done, and the council statement did not mention any specific allegations against the two Arabic broadcasters.

Both channels have in the past broadcast audio tapes and statements purported to be from Saddam Hussein and footage showing alleged resistance fighters vowing to continue attacks on U.S. troops.

"We will not let them broadcast footage of U.S. soldiers being ripped apart," Qanbar told reporters, adding that the two channels could be fined.

He called the council decree "a positive step to protect the Iraqi people from the poisons being broadcast by the channels."

Under rules listed in the council's statement Tuesday, Iraqi and foreign media are prohibited from inciting violence or "chaos" or promoting the return of Saddam's Baath party. All news organizations are required to inform authorities if they learn of any information concerning terrorist activities.

L. Paul Bremer, the top U.S. administrator in Iraq, said from Washington that he shared the concerns of the Governing Council but was not familiar with its decision.

"I know they've expressed concern many times to me -- and we share that concern -- that a number of Arab television stations tend to run rather inflammatory and misleading and I would say sometimes even inaccurate stories," Bremer said as he left a U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee hearing Monday night.

"Freedom of the press is important. On the other hand, it's also important not to incite violence."

The Committee to Protect Journalists said it found the sanctions troubling.

"Penalizing news organizations sends the wrong message and raises serious questions about how Iraqi authorities will handle the broadcast of negative news," CPJ Mideast program coordinator Joel Campagna said Tuesday. "The authorities should be encouraging open media."

Paris-based media advocacy group Reporters without Borders condemned the decision as "an attack on freedom of the press. Such measures augur badly for the Iraqi government council's intentions when it comes to rapidly setting up democracy in Iraq."

The Qatar-based Al-Jazeera and Dubai-based Al-Arabiya have given blanket coverage of events in Iraq, often highly critical of the U.S.-led occupation of the country.

Al-Jazeera has gained a reputation as an independent voice in a region where many news media are government-controlled.

Jordan, Bahrain, Libya, Morocco and Algeria have closed Al-Jazeera's offices, expelled its correspondents or withdrawn their diplomats from Qatar to protest the station's coverage.

President Bush also has complained to Qatari Emir Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani over Al-Jazeera's broadcasting of tapes allegedly by Osama bin Laden.

Al-Arabiya had not been criticized since being launched shortly before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.