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Last Updated: Friday, 15 February 2008, 16:33 GMT
Al-Jazeera criticises media code
Iraqi family watches al-Arabiya satellite station
Satellite channels have had a huge impact in the Arab world
Television network al-Jazeera has said a media code adopted by Arab countries could curb freedom of expression.

The code allows authorities to withdraw permits from satellite channels deemed to have offended Arab leaders or national or religious symbols.

It was adopted this week by ministers from the 22-member Arab League at a meeting called by Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

But Qatar, where al-Jazeera is based, refused to sign up.

The network said on Friday that it considered the charter "a risk to the freedom of expression in the Arab world".

It warned that some of the charter's language was ambiguous and "could be interpreted to actively hinder independent reporting from the region".

"Any code of ethics or governance for journalistic practices should emerge, and be governed, from within the profession and not be imposed externally by political institutions," said the network's director-general, Wadah Khanfar.

"Independent legal processes" should be used to resolve any violations of ethics codes or journalistic practices, he said.

'Protecting identity'

In recent years Arab satellite channels have given a voice to government critics and viewers, debating issues that state media shrink from reporting.

Al-Jazeera, which was launched in 1996, has been served with reporting bans in several Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia.

The charter signed this week in Cairo seeks to limit damage to "social harmony, national unity, public order or traditional values".

It also calls on broadcasters to avoid erotic content, or content which promotes smoking or the consumption of alcohol, and to "protect Arab identity from the harmful effects of globalisation".

It allows signatory countries to "withdraw, freeze or not renew the work permits of media which break the regulations".

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