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Journalists banned from scene of bombings; Parliament votes to take legal action against al-Jazeera TV

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders has voiced concern about the press freedom implications of a decision by the Iraqi interior ministry announced on 14 May 2007 to prevent journalists from getting access to the scene of bomb attacks. The worldwide press freedom organisation said it feared that growing restrictions on the media could end in a total news blackout.

Ministry spokesman, General Abdel Karim Khalaf, gave several reasons for the ban, saying, "We do not want material evidence interfered with before investigators get there and the ministry wishes to respect the rights of victims.(. . .) We also want to avoid giving the terrorists information about the result of their attacks", he said.

But Reporters Without Borders pointed out: "It is vital that journalists can report on the security situation throughout the country without it being seen as incitement to violence. When the streets become impassable and the authorities provide no information about the attacks in real time, the role of the reporter becomes essential. Coverage of these attacks allows people to evaluate the security risk and to avoid dangerous areas."

It is not the first time the Iraqi authorities have sought to set limits on the work of the media. In December 2006, parliament decided to ban journalists from covering its sessions (see IFEX alert of 12 December 2006).

The same parliament voted by a majority, on 9 May 2007, to take legal action against the satellite TV channel al-Jazeera. This came a few days after it broadcast a programme in which the political legitimacy of the Shiite leader, Ayatollah Ali Sistani, was called into question. Members of the Shiite community joined demonstrations against the TV in the cities of Basra and Najaf, and in the south of the country. Al-Jazeera has not been allowed to work in Iraq since August 2004, since the government charged it with "incitement to violence" for showing videos made by armed groups. Following the vote, several Members of Parliament also proposed taking the channel before the International Criminal Court at The Hague.

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