IRAN: Al-Arabiya reporter banned from working

DUBAI, Sep. 2, 2008 (AP via IHT) – The Tehran bureau chief for the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya news channel has been banned Tuesday by Iranian authorities from working in the Islamic Republic and told to leave the country as soon as possible, the network told The Associated Press.

The network's representative did not want to elaborate on how the decision of Iranian Culture Ministry to revoke bureau chief Hassan Fahas' press accreditation and declare him "persona non grata" would affect Al-Arabiya's news office of a dozen reporters, producers and cameramen.

"It is not yet clear if they are deporting our bureau chief or closing our (Tehran) office," the Al-Arabiya representative said. "Either way, the message to the network is clear," he added.

The representative of the Dubai-based TV station spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue

Iranian officials have long complained that Al-Arabiya's coverage of Iran is biased. The network has rejected the criticism, saying that it had always given Iranian officials the chance to take part in its programs.

This is the third Al-Arabiya correspondent expelled from Iran since it opened an office there in 2003. The network's Lebanese-born bureau chief Hassan Fahas has lived in Iran's capital since 2000.

He has also worked for Saudi-owned newspaper Al Hayat, based in London.

Saudi Arabia and Iran have long been rivals in the region and lately Saudi media has been playing up the Iranian Shiite threat to the predominantly Sunni Middle East.

In a statement Al-Arabiya released earlier on Tuesday, Fahas was quoted as saying that the decision to deport him from Iran was part of a "public campaign against Al-Arabiya, orchestrated by some Iranian officials and pro-government media."

Iran's official news agency confirmed the banning and suggested that a program from Al-Arabiya describing the run up two the 1979 Islamic Revolution could have been the reason for the move because it was insulting to the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Before Fahas' credentials were removed, a member of Iran's parliament publicly condemned the program and called for the closure of the network's office.

The press freedom group, Reporters without Borders called on Iran to rescind its decision, noting that the deputy bureau chief of Agence France-Presse had just been expelled as well.

"This expulsion order comes just two months after a European journalist's expulsion and is designed to intimidate all foreign journalists working in Iran," it said in a statement.


Additional reporting from Associated Press Writers Ali Akbar Dareini in Tehran and Salah Nasrawi in Cairo.