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Salah Najim - Al Jazeera TV Chief Editor
"Under any threat, we are not going to change our programmes"
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Friday, 23 March, 2001, 20:21 GMT
Palestinians allow TV office to reopen
Yasser Arafat
Media battle: Al Jazeera allegedly insulted Mr Arafat

The Qatari satellite television channel Al-Jazeera has said Palestinian officials are allowing its offices in the West Bank to reopen.

The television channel said the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, had issued the order.

Armed Palestinian security officers closed the station's offices in Ramallah earlier this week - apparently after an unflattering image of Mr Arafat was broadcast in a promotional trailer for a documentary on the Lebanese civil war.

In addition to freedom of speech issues, there is the practical issue of this backfiring...this hurts our image"

Hanan Ashrawi, Palestinian legislator

Media campaign groups and prominent Palestinians had complained to Mr Arafat over the move, condemning it as censorship and damaging to the image of the Palestinian-controlled territories.

The trailer broadcast by Al Jazeera, for a programme on Lebanon's civil war, shows a demonstrator holding a pair of shoes over a picture of the Palestinian leader.

Because the soles of feet are considered unclean by Arabs, some Palestinian officials have reportedly construed this as an insult to Mr Arafat.


"Al Jazeera did not respect the rules we set for journalists in the Palestinian areas," said Mohammed Dahlan, a Palestinian security chief.

"They did not respect the Palestinian Authority or President Arafat."

Hanan Ashrawi
Ashrawi: "freedom of speech issue"

Before that the Palestinian Authority had changed its mind, Al Jazeera's chief editor, Salah Najim, said that until their office was closed, the station had received no indication that the broadcast might have caused offence.

"We didn't get a request for an apology," Mr Najim told the BBC World Service programme Newshour. "We didn't get even an official protest."

It was "debatable", he said, whether the image in question was offensive to Mr Arafat.

Asked if the station will apologise or amend its broadcast, Mr Najim said the station considers complaints from anybody, if they follow "the proper procedures, but not under any threat are we going to change the content of our programmes."


Palestinians firing sling shots at Israelis
Al Jazeera has been active in covering the six-month uprising

The New York-based International Committee to Protect Journalists called the closure "a crude attempt at censorship that violates basic international norms for free expression."

In a statement, the group urged Mr Arafat "to ensure that Al Jazeera's office in Ramallah may reopen immediately."

Qatar-based Al Jazeera has an audience of millions across the Middle East for its 24-hour news broadcasts and is seen as one of the most independent and outspoken broadcasters in the region.

Palestinian officials have not said whether they will allow the office to re-open.

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