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IRAN: Al Arabiya channel provokes authorities' ire

September 3, 2008 |  9:50 am

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This time the media-bashing did not target the Western press. The object of Tehran's ire was a major satellite news channel from the neighboring Arab world that had infuriated Iranian authorities.

The reason, apparently, was a documentary the channel aired about the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran.

Without any warning, officials in Tehran ordered the bureau chief of Al Arabiya TV channel, Hassan Fahs, to leave the country on Tuesday. It was not clear what the fate of the Tehran bureau of the Dubai-based channel will be.

The semi-official Iranian news agency, Fars, quoted Fahs as saying that he was told the reasons behind the decision were “the policies of the network and the work record of our Tehran bureau.”

Sources in Tehran quoted officials saying Iranian authorities were particularly furious because Al Arabiya had shown footage in July of Islamist insurgents in Pakistan claiming they had executed Iranian hostages.   

The Fars news agency suggested that the decision came after the network, which they said was linked to “hard-line Saudi movements,” broadcast a documentary “insulting Imam [Ruhollah] Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic revolution, and Shiite beliefs.”

The agency said that students from 10 universities had demonstrated to call for the closure of the station's offices in Iran.

Iranian members of parliament had publicly accused Al Arabiya of propagating "hostile stances" against Iran's people and government.

On its website, Al Arabiya condemned the decision. A senior source from the channel was quoted as saying that it had had not shown any major news item about Iran “without offering a fair and balanced opportunity for Iranian official spokespersons or other pro-government figures to comment."

It’s not the first time that an Arab news channel has provoked the ire of Iranian authorities. In 2005, the bureau of the other major Arab satellite channel, Al Jazeera, was shut down for its coverage of clashes in the southwestern oil city of Ahvaz, which has a substantial Arab minority. The office reopened 14 months later.

Raed Rafei in Beirut

P.S. The Los Angeles Times issues a free daily newsletter with the latest headlines from the Middle East, as well as the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. You can subscribe by logging in at the website here, clicking on the box for "L.A. Times updates," and then clicking on the "World: Mideast" box.

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