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Sat 16 Feb 2008 12:18 PM

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Al-Jazeera hits out at restrictive broadcast charter

Satellite channel labels Arab League charter 'risk to freedom of expression'.

Al-Jazeera television on Friday lashed out at a set of recommendations adopted by the Arab League that seek to stop Arab satellite channels from offending governments in the region.

"Al-Jazeera considers the adoption of the charter... a risk to the freedom of expression in the Arab world," the Qatar-based pan-Arab television network said in a statement.

Information ministers of the 22-member Arab League on Tuesday voted in favour of the guidlines, with Qatar the only dissenting vote.

The document, which is not legally binding, was principally backed by Egypt and Saudi Arabia and calls for the stations "not to offend the leaders or national and religious symbols" of Arab countries.

Cairo and Riyadh frequently complain of criticism of their regimes in talk shows aired by Al-Jazeera - which broke the mould of Arab journalism when it was set up in 1996 - and other satellite channels.

Al-Jazeera, which is subsidised by the Qatari government, warned that parts of the Arab League document were "ambiguous and could be interpreted to actively hinder independent reporting from the region".

"Any codes of ethics or governance for journalistic practices should emerge... from within the profession and not be imposed externally by political institutions," it added.

The document authorises signatory countries to "withdraw, freeze or not renew the work permits of media which break the regulations".

It stipulates that satellite channels "should not damage social harmony, national unity, public order or traditional values".

Programming should also "conform with the religious and ethical values of Arab society and take account of its family structure".

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