DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) -Iran on Tuesday banned the Tehran bureau chief for the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya news channel and told him to leave the country as soon as possible, the network said.
A representative for the Dubai-based network told The Associated Press that Iran’s Culture Ministry revoked bureau chief Hassan Fahas’ press accreditation and declared him a “persona non grata.” Fahas has lived in Iran’s capital since 2000.
The representative declined to speculate on how the ban would affect Al-Arabiya’s office of a dozen reporters, producers and cameramen in Tehran. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
“It is not yet clear if they are deporting our bureau chief or closing our (Tehran) office,” he said. “Either way, the message to the network is clear.”
Iranian officials have long claimed that Al-Arabiya’s coverage of Iran is biased. The network has rejected the criticism, saying it has always given Iranian officials the chance to take part in its programs. Fahas is the third Al-Arabiya correspondent expelled from Iran since the network opened an office there in 2003.
Saudi Arabia and Iran have long been rivals and lately, Saudi media have played up the Iranian Shiite threat to the predominantly Sunni Middle East.
Fahas said in a statement released by his network that the decision to deport him was part of Iran’s “public campaign against Al-Arabiya, orchestrated by some Iranian officials and pro-government media.”
Iran’s official news agency IRNA confirmed the ban and suggested that an Al-Arabiya program about the run-up time to the 1979 Islamic Revolution could have prompted the move because it was allegedly insulting to the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
The Paris-based press freedom group, Reporters without Borders, called on Iran to rescind the decision, and noted that the deputy bureau chief of Agence France-Presse was also recently expelled from Tehran.