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TV stations to air Bin Laden video

al Qaeda statement
U.S. officials fear al Qaeda officials could pass coded messages in broadcasts  


WASHINGTON -- Major television stations outside the U.S. say they will continue to air statements by Osama bin Laden despite White House calls to show caution because they might contain coded messages.

Many companies said they had not been asked to show restraint by their governments but said they would use their editorial judgement if more material from the Saudi-born militant came their way.

Bin Laden's broadcasts, which have included video of him at a guerrilla training camp, have been channelled through the Arab satellite news station Al Jazeera based in the Gulf state of Qatar.

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U.S. TV networks face a dilemma over statements from Al Qaeda. CNN's David Ensor reports (October 11)

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The U.S. administration urged U.S. television networks on Wednesday to curb broadcasts of bin Laden's statements, saying he might be trying to tell his followers to launch new attacks.

The White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said on Wednesday: "At best, Osama bin Laden's messages are propaganda calling on people to kill Americans.

"At worst, he could be issuing orders to his followers to initiate such attacks."

News chiefs from ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox and NBC television networks pledged to vet incoming feeds and not broadcast them live.

CNN said it would no longer air statements from al Qaeda live, and would review them first before deciding how to handle them.

"CNN's policy is to avoid airing any material that we believe would directly facilitate any terrorist acts," the network said.

"In deciding what to air, CNN will consider guidance from appropriate authorities."

The network has an exclusive agreement with Al Jazeera television, and aired in their entirety recorded videotapes of bin Laden on Sunday, as well as the message by al Qaeda spokesman Suleiman Abu Gheith on Tuesday.

In Australia, media mogul Rupert Murdoch said his networks would not broadcast bin Laden video if it contained coded messages.

"We'll do whatever is our patriotic duty," said Australian-born Murdoch, now a U.S. citizen.

His family interests control News Corp, whose holdings include the Fox News channel, Fox Television, Twentieth Century Fox, television stations and a stable of newspapers.

In London, a spokesman for British Prime Minister Tony Blair said the issue of what to show was a matter for the broadcasters. "We will leave it to them."

A spokeswoman at Independent Television News said: "We will take each item on its merits."

The British Broadcasting Corporation said only that it had "received no requests" about the material.

Reuters, which distributes video footage to about 350 broadcasters worldwide, said it would treat the material on its merits.

"If we were offered any bin Laden video, we would exercise our normal editorial judgment on whether it was newsworthy before passing it on to our broadcast customers, who of course have the final decision on whether to put it out or not," said Rodney Pinder, editor of Reuters Video News.

At Japanese national broadcaster NHK a spokesman said it only used brief clips "in order that it not become propaganda."

France's TF1 decided this week to stop live broadcasts or re-broadcasting of bin Laden statements because they could contain coded messages.

Dutch NOS television said it had not broadcast full speeches by bin Laden, but would show newsworthy segments.

"We are not convinced there are secret messages in the speeches, but we are looking very closely at the them," said Hans Laroes, a senior editor.

He added: "We cannot give only one side, the American side, and not the other side. News from the enemy is also news."

All but one Italian news broadcaster have decided not to ban bin Laden video statements.

Only TG4, a centre-right news broadcaster, has said it will no longer air old or future bin Laden material.

Albino Longhi, director of TG1, told Reuters: "We think news cannot be censored or hidden."