BAGHDAD, Iraq, (AP) – The Iraqi government on Thursday ordered Arabic satellite network Al-Arabiya to shut down its Baghdad operations for one month, state television reported. Al-Arabiya said Iraqi police later arrived at its offices to enforce the order.
The other pan-Arab satellite network, Al-Jazeera, had its office in the capital closed two years ago.
Al-Arabiya, which is based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, at first said its headquarters had not yet been informed of a ban, but later said on live television that police had arrived at its Baghdad offices to close its operations down.
The order apparently was issued by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Cabinet.
“We have not officially been informed about the banning and we do not know the causes. Only the cabinet knows the causes,” said Jawad Hatab, the Al-Arabiya bureau chief in Baghdad.
In July, al-Maliki warned television stations against broadcasting video that could undermine Iraq’s stability.
A statement by al-Maliki’s office cited news reports that “capitalize on the footage of victims of terrorist attacks.” He called on media outlets to “respect the dignity of human beings and not to fall in the trap set up by terrorist groups who want to petrify the Iraqi people.”
The statement said TV stations should uphold the code of media ethics, or else the government will take legal action against them.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists — an independent group monitoring press freedom worldwide — condemned the decision to close the Al-Arabiya bureau.
“The arbitrary closure of Al-Arabiyas Baghdad bureau flies in the face of the Iraqi governments promise to uphold freedom of the press,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “We call on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to rescind this ban immediately.”
In November 2003, the U.S.-appointed Governing Council banned Al-Arabiya from reporting from Baghdad after it aired an audio tape said to be from Saddam Hussein, who was still at large at the time. The station was allowed to resume its work shortly afterward.
The Iraqi government closed the Baghdad news office of Al-Jazeera television in August 2004, accusing the station of inciting violence. The office is still closed but the station operates in the Kurdish-ruled area of the north.
At one time or another, Al-Jazeera has had bureaus closed in 18 countries and its signal blocked in 30.
President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld also have criticized the Qatar-based station, accusing it of fueling anti-American sentiment and giving terrorists a podium. Al-Jazeera says it deals with tapes purely on the basis of news value.