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Al-Jazeera spokesman: 'We don't deal in politics'

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U.S. officials are accusing Arab television networks al-Jazeera and al Arabiya for sensationalizing their coverage in Iraq. CNN's Octavia Nasr reports (September 24)
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(CNN) -- The U.S.-backed Iraqi Governing Council temporarily banned the Arabic-language networks Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya from government buildings and news conferences Tuesday, saying the networks promote violence. Al-Jazeera spokesman Jihad Ballout spoke to CNN anchor Kyra Phillips from Doha, Qatar, on Tuesday.

PHILLIPS: What you have been told with regard to access in Iraq?

BALLOUT: There has been a decision by the Governing Council that Al-Jazeera should refrain from covering -- quote -- "official activities" -- unquote -- of the Governing Council for the duration of two weeks.

PHILLIPS: And the reason being here, according to the reading I've been doing, Iraq's Governing Council saying that Al- Jazeera has promoted political violence, the killing of members of the Governing Council and the coalition, and has aired video of, quote, "terrorists terrorizing Iraqis." How do you respond to that, sir?

BALLOUT: Well, I mean, basically Al-Jazeera is a news organization. We don't deal in politics. We try to be as balanced as possible. There's a situation, and a serious situation in Iraq as well, that seems to bring about various points of view, and we are doing our duty as journalists and trying to tell our viewers out there exactly what's happening.

I mean, if I was to count the number of representatives and officials of the council, and the American forces, who appear on our screen to explain and portray their messages, I think we want to have enough time for that during this discussion now.

Again, I mean, all we are doing is our job, and as professionally as possible.

PHILLIPS: Does Al-Jazeera have a code of ethics or a set of rules when it comes to standards and practices, and choosing what stories you will and will not cover?

BALLOUT: It certainly does ... it's a core value that almost every single news organization in the world [has], and basically, we look for the newsworthiness and the news value of whatever we have, the relevance of it, and the reliability of the source.

At the end of the day, we are not in the business of censoring news and information, especially from our viewers. I think it's incumbent on us to give our viewers out there as full a picture as possible, and as balanced [a] picture as possible and as comprehensive as possible.

PHILLIPS: What is your policy with regard to showing video of dead Americans, specifically dead soldiers?

BALLOUT: Again, I think that's diverting from the issue that's at hand at the moment. I think we've explained ourselves quite clearly in the past during the war in Iraq. I don't think it is a matter of dead soldiers. Again, we have to look at it from the perspective of relevance, and I think if you're referring to the time back during the war, I think it was quite relevant then. It was newsworthy, certainly. I think a lot of American and British organizations chose to show it ultimately, and certainly it was relevant, because there was a war going on, and it wasn't staged.

PHILLIPS: My final question, obviously, a great deal of suspicion [is] coming forward. You have the arrest of one of your journalists, Tayseer Allouni, and these alleged ties to al Qaeda. [Has there been] talk about how you handle coalition operations and anticoalition operations in Iraq? How you find balance here and how you defend your network?

BALLOUT: Well, I mean, I'm not in the business of defending our network, I'm in the business of explaining certain aspects that perhaps the Western audience is not aware of.

What I would like to talk about is actually the last decision that was issued by the council, and all I can say is that my organization is dismayed at this decision, and we certainly believe that there are several victims to the decision, firstly the truth, because it will be missing ... and the second one is the freedom of the press. And Al-Jazeera has been under pressure ever since day one of its existence, although it really adopts and practices the same principles of freedom of the press, and democracy and multiplicity of views as always advocated and asked people to do.

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