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White House urges TV networks to stop airing Bin Laden tapes

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    NMU         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Newsgathering         Oct 11, 2001    

White House urges TV networks to stop airing Bin Laden tapes

  • Major broadcasters decided to comply with a request from Bush advisors asking them to refrain from using prerecorded videos from the terrorist, saying the tapes might include coded messages to harm Americans.

Calling it “an expression of concern,” the White House asked news media networks to not air prerecorded messages from terrorist Osama Bin Laden in their entirety, and the networks announced that they would comply with the request.

In a conference call with network executives on Oct. 10, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice warned that such tapes from Bin Laden and his henchmen could be used to frighten Americans, gain supporters and send messages about future terrorist attacks.

All five major news organizations — ABC News, CBS News, NBC News and its affiliate MSNBC, Fox News and CNN — agreed not to air unedited, videotaped statements from Bin Laden or his followers and to remove language the government considers inflammatory. This marked a rare moment when all of the networks decided on a joint agreement limiting prospective news coverage.

In a press conference, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the Bush administration fears that the tapes are a way for Bin Laden to send coded messages to other terrorists. “The means of communication in Afghanistan right now are limited,” he said. “One way to communicate outside Afghanistan to followers is through the Western media.”

He said airing tapes from Bin Laden “is a forum for prerecorded, pre-taped propaganda inciting people to kill Americans.” But he said it wasn’t censorship. “This is a request to the media, and the media makes their own decisions,” he said.

“This is absolutely unprecedented in my experience,” CBS President Andrew Heyward said to The Washington Post. “We are all giving the government the benefit of the doubt; the propaganda issue is a legitimate issue.”

In a statement, CNN officials said their “policy is to avoid airing any materials that we believe would directly facilitate any terrorists’ acts.”


© 2001 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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