- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 23, 2003

LONDON — The American-selected Iraqi Governing Council yesterday imposed a two-week ban on coverage of its official activities by the Arab world’s largest satellite-television networks, Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya.

The U.S.-led coalition, meanwhile, is poised to impose new curbs this week on any TV network that gets information on a future act of violence and fails to report it immediately to the authorities.

An Al Jazeera reporter and cameraman were arrested last week after being at the scene of a bomb blast that wounded several American soldiers.

The temporary suspension by the 25-member Governing Council was strongly condemned as an invasion of press freedom by employees of the two stations.

A U.S. official at the meeting blocked stronger measures against the two stations, sources confirmed.

“They are acting like new Saddams,” said one senior editor who asked not to be named.

Both networks were at the press conference where the two-week suspension was announced, their logos prominently displayed on the microphones.

Governing Council members contended that both networks had given witting or unwitting aid to terrorists and had shown bias against the coalition.

One of the key instances cited by Governing Council members to justify Al Arabiya’s inclusion in the temporary ban was the broadcast by both stations of interviews with masked men claiming to represent armed insurgents, who threatened coalition forces and members of the Governing Council with death.

Al Arabiya has since pledged not to show footage of masked terrorists making threats.

“The Board of Trustees raised concerns and we have decided, with our news team, that we will not have these masked people again,” said Walid al-Ibrahim, a 43-year-old Saudi media mogul who owns the bulk of the shares in Al Arabiya, which he launched in March.

“If they want to come and show their faces and give their names on TV, they are welcome to express their views. But we will not allow threats to kill people,” Mr. al-Ibrahim said.

“Al Arabiya does not have a hidden agenda. Nobody is steering Al Arabiya with a remote control,” he said.

Anticoalition militants have also viewed both stations as useful conduits for their clandestine audiotapes.

These have several times surreptitiously been left under a tree near the hotel, followed by a telephoned tip-off.

Al Arabiya has broadcast most of these messages, sometimes purporting to come from Saddam Hussein. It recently ran a tape, supposedly from a senior al Qaeda spokesman, warning that actions were afoot that would dwarf the aerial attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

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