News Release

Context: Governing Council’s Crackdown on Al-Jazeera

“You know, I just came in from Baghdad, and there are now over 100 newspapers in the free press in Iraq in a free Iraq, where people are able to say whatever they wish. People are debating, people are discussing — something they have not done for decades.”
— Donald Rumsfeld, in response to protesters, Sept. 10.

VICTORIA CUNNINGHAM
Cunningham is national coordinator for Code Pink. She was among a group of protesters who interrupted Donald Rumsfeld at a Sept. 10 speech in Washington. She said today: “Rumsfeld made an attempt to divert attention from the substance of protests calling for his resignation with talk of the establishment of a free press in Iraq. Rumsfeld did not remind the audience of the countless instances of censorship exercised by the U.S. over mostly Arab journalists expressing anti-occupation views (‘Iraq to Bar Key Arabic News Channels,’ www.upi.com/view.cfm?StoryID=20030923-111537-1915r, United Press International, 9/23/03); or that Maj. Gen David Petraeus, the Army 101st Airborne Division’s commanding officer, seized ‘editorial control’ of the only TV station in Mosul over its ‘predominantly non-factual/unbalanced news coverage’ (‘Iraqi Democracy Means a Free Press,’ www.commondreams.org/views03/0518-04.htm, Toronto Star, 5/18/03; ‘Iraqi Independent Newspaper Closed for “Inciting People to Murder,”‘ www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/library/news/iraq/2003/07/iraq-030722-voa10.htm, Voice of America, 7/22/03). I also can’t help but think of the Al-Jazeera cameraman killed in U.S. raids and the many other Arabic news stations that were hit by ‘coalition’ bombings (‘Al-Jazeera Cameraman Killed in U.S. Raid,’ http://media.guardian.co.uk/broadcast/story/0,7493,932169,00.html, Guardian, 4/8/03).”
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DAVID ENDERS
Enders is editor of Baghdad Bulletin and has spent most of the last several months in Iraq. Enders said today: “The current president of the governing council, Ahmed Chalabi, has been very critical of Al-Jazeera [http://english.aljazeera.net]…. The network has taken serious steps in Baghdad, admitting and apologizing when its reporting has been sloppy, holding its journalism to high standards…. The general impression most people are given of the journalistic atmosphere in Iraq — where, it is often cited, more than 150 newspapers have been allowed to thrive since the deposing of Saddam Hussein’s government — belies instances like these, in which the U.S.-U.K. has used loosely interpreted edicts by Paul Bremer to shut down newspapers. To see the governing council act in the same manner is extremely disheartening.”
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AS’AD ABUKHALIL
Author of the book Bin Laden, Islam and America’s New “War on Terrorism,” AbuKhalil is professor of political science at California State University at Stanislaus. He said today: “Clearly the governing council is a U.S. puppet. So the decision to punish Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiyyah (and the latter is notorious for going out of its way to accommodate U.S. perspectives) should be seen within two contexts: First, this is not the first act against the Iraqi press by the U.S. colonial administration. Offices of newspapers have in the last several months been searched and vandalized by U.S. troops, and computers have been confiscated. Journalists were also arrested on charges of inciting violence — a charge that was a favorite for Saddam’s government — and journalists were shot at during the invasion. There are still Iraqi journalists among the 10,000 prisoners in U.S. custody waiting to be charged. The second context is the U.S. war against Al-Jazeera, which had begun in earnest after Sept. 11. One can easily level accusations and criticisms of Al-Jazeera, including their attempt to appease the U.S. government on many occasions, but it certainly has provided a much more balanced picture of events in Iraq than the U.S. media.”
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For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020; or David Zupan, (541) 484-9167