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State, Justice ask CBS News not to air Pearl video segments

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  1. Prior Restraint

    NMU         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Prior Restraints         May 17, 2002    

State, Justice ask CBS News not to air Pearl video segments

  • Two government agencies asked CBS News not to air parts of a videotape of the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl made by his captors before his death, while the White House after the broadcast expressed sympathy over it to the Pearl family.

The departments of State and Justice contacted CBS News to ask the network not to air segments of a videotape of conversations between slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl and his captors shortly before Pearl’s murder in February in Pakistan. The agencies told the network it should not broadcast the segments out of consideration for Pearl’s family.

The tape, dubbed in Arabic, was brought to CBS attention by dissident Saudi Arabian journalist Ali al-Ahmed who discovered it on a Web site he said was intended to inflame hatred for America among young Saudis. The videotape includes the execution of Pearl but CBS never entertained the idea of broadcasting that portion of the tape.

According to a network spokesperson, CBS contacted The Wall Street Journal before the broadcast as a courtesy so that Pearl’s fellow workers and family would not be surprised by it.

Shortly after contacting the newspaper CBS received calls from the two government agencies asking that it not air the segments out of respect for the wishes of Pearl’s family.

Beginning the broadcast of short segments of the tape on May 14, CBS News anchor Dan Rather told viewers, “We are about to show you edited portions of it so that you can see and judge for yourself the kind of propaganda terrorists are using in their war against the United States.”

The next day Justice Department spokeswoman Barbara Comstock, who had called CBS, told reporters she was “saddened” by the decision to air the segments. The Washington Post quoted Comstock as saying, “Our concern was that the appropriate sensitivity to the family of the victim be shown. The story can certainly be told without necessarily showing pictures of him. They’ve opened the door to legitimizing further use of other, worse parts of the tape.”

The State Department’s public affairs officials issued a statement confirming that “at the request of the Pearl family, the Department contacted CBS news to confirm whether CBS intended to broadcast parts of the videotape made by the killers of Daniel Pearl and to ask that in consideration of the sensitivities of Mr. Pearl’s family CBS reconsider the decision.”‘

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer acknowledged the State Department’s call to CBS. He said that “Mrs. Pearl has very strong feelings about the damage that can be done as a result” of showing the video, and that the administration “has great sympathies for what Mrs. Pearl has said.”

CBS issued its own statement:

“While we understand and recognize the sorrow of the Pearl family, last night we

reported important and newsworthy information to the American public. The report was

sound and responsible journalism, sensitively presented, and showed the audience an

example of the very real threat the free world faces in its war on terrorism. Ignoring

these kinds of stories not only doesn’t serve the public and runs counter to our mission

as journalists, but can lead to an uninformed — and vulnerable — nation.”

RD


© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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