Lebanon government bans by force TV program criticizing Saudi Arabia
Lebanese special forces surrounded a Beirut-based satellite television station Wednesday to prevent it from airing a program containing criticism of Saudi Arabia, said sources at the New Television (NTV) station.
NTV officials said senior politicians had warned that the station risked being closed down altogether if it broadcast Wednesday's instalment of weekly political show Bila Raqeeb (Without a Censor).
New TV had planned to invite Saudi opposition figures to discuss the Saudi regime, political and economic conditions in kingdom, and also the use of U.S. military bases on Saudi soil in the event of a U.S.-led attack on Iraq.
But the station sources said that Lebanon's Information Minister, Ghazi al-Aridi had asked New TV Chairman, Tahseen Khayat, not to broadcast the program scheduled for airing Wednesday night. When Khayat refused, al-Aridi told him that going ahead would lead to the government shutting down his TV station.
Shortly afterwards special forces surrounded the station and several police were seen entering the building. The police later said they had prevented the program being aired, UPI reported.
A Telecommunications Ministry source said: "The ministry carried out a memorandum from the Prime Ministership ordering the satellite transmission of New TV channel on the Arabsat and Nilesat satellites to be stopped."
Khayat accused the Lebanese government of bowing to pressure from Saudi Arabia. Political sources pointed out that prior to requesting that the program not be broadcast, al-Aridi had a meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri.
Khayat's station supports the Lebanese political opposition and is widely believed to have close contacts with Libya, the political sources said.
Abdel Hadi Mahfouz, head of the National Media Council, an officially recognized body, defended the government decision, saying it was "a precautionary measure to avoid harming Lebanon's foreign ties. It is normal to protect Lebanon's relations with friendly and brotherly countries."
Meanwhile, an official source said such a program on Saudi Arabia would only embarrass Lebanon.
NTV general manager Ibrahim al-Halaby said: "We've been getting calls from politicians for two or three days asking us not to air the show because it goes too far, but we said we're doing our job and they can't tell us what to air or not." "Today they cut us off without even seeing the program in question."
NTV news editor Mariam al-Bassam said the program at the centre of the row was about "the political and economic situation in Saudi Arabia" as well as the Gulf kingdom's relations with Washington and Baghdad. (Albawaba.com)
© 2003 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)
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