Al-Jazeera shut down in West Bank

By Jessica Elgot, July 17, 2009
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The West Bank offices of the TV channel, Al-Jazeera, have been shut down by the Palestinian Authority because, it has been claimed, the station portrays the Palestinian leadership in a negative light.

Al-Jazeera, which has offices in Ramallah, said it had been “stunned” by the allegations, which it fiercely contested.

The shut-down appears to be a direct result of what the majority PA party, Fatah, calls “false news” which it said the channel broadcast on Tuesday night.

In an Al-Jazeera political programme, Farouk Kaddoumi, a founding member of Fatah, alleged that Palestinian premier Mahmoud Abbas had been involved in an Israeli plot to kill Yasir Arafat in 2004.

His claim has been greeted with outrage by the Palestinian leadership which has denounced Kaddoumi as “sick and unhinged” — but it seems that the transmission of the claim itself was enough to spark off the closure of the broadcaster.

Al-Jazeera employees were seen removing equipment from the Ramallah office before Palestinian officials closed it.

In a statement announcing the decision, a spokesperson from Fatah said: “Despite our repeated calls to remain neutral when it covers the Palestinian issue and to be balanced when it comes to the internal situation, the channel continues to incite against the PLO and the PA.”

Press organisations have condemned the move as censorship.

Press freedom organisation Reporters Without Borders said: ”This decision is a violation of the freedom to inform the public on the West Bank. It is vital that all points of view, even if they are shocking, should be freely expressed within Palestinian society.”

Aidan White, general secretary of the Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists, told the Press Association: "This decision is a serious violation of press freedom.

"It shows intolerance on the part of the Palestinian Authority and suggests that it is trying to control media by suppressing reporting which it does not like. The ban should be lifted immediately."

Last updated: 2:36pm, July 17 2009