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WAR WITH IRAQ

Nasdaq Joins in Ban of Al Jazeera

Stock market cites the TV network's airing of images of dead and captured U.S. soldiers.

March 26, 2003|Thomas S. Mulligan | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — In a move protested by free-speech advocates and saluted by jittery stock market traders, Wall Street on Tuesday turned its back again on Arab satellite TV network Al Jazeera.

The Nasdaq Stock Market, following the lead of the New York Stock Exchange, refused to allow Al Jazeera to use its facilities to broadcast live reports.

But Nasdaq, in contrast to the NYSE, explicitly linked its ban to Qatar-based Al Jazeera's controversial airing last weekend of images of killed and captured American soldiers in Iraq.

"In light of Al Jazeera's recent conduct during the war, in which they have broadcast footage of U.S. POWs in alleged violation of the Geneva Convention, they are not welcome to broadcast from our facility at this time," Nasdaq spokesman Scott Peterson said.

Al Jazeera had applied to Nasdaq on Tuesday, a day after the NYSE withdrew credentials from the network and its two part-time commentators, Ramsey Shiber and Ammar al Sankari, who for a number of years did "stand-up" reports on market trends from the NYSE trading floor. Neither could be reached for comment.

Big Board Vice President Robert Zito cited security and working space considerations for the revocation but gave no specifics. The revocation was the first since the NYSE began granting broadcast credentials in 1994. Al Jazeera was one of 23 broadcasters so credentialed.

Al Jazeera, in a statement Tuesday, said it regretted the ban, "just as it regrets any restrictions on freedom of the press. We urge the NYSE to reconsider its decision in the interests of upholding the values of the United States of America."

Media observers said the NYSE action conflicted with American free-speech principles and could result in retaliatory restrictions on U.S. journalists abroad.

NYSE officials seem to be "caught up in a little war fever," said Michael Hoyt, executive editor of the Columbia Journalism Review.

Added Gerald F. Lawson, chairman of the journalism department at Boston's Emerson College: "It's sort of an invitation to further censorship of our reporters. We're trying to say it's a war against Iraq, not against Arabs or Muslims. But then we're going to take the television station that serves that whole world and ban them because we don't like something they ran? That's stupid."

Zito said Tuesday that the exchange's security measures have intensified since the war began and, along with already cramped conditions on the trading floor, have put pressure on the NYSE to limit the number of broadcasters operating there.

"When you look at the list of broadcasters and reporters who provide responsible business coverage, they're the last ones on the list," Zito said.

Several market professionals who work on the trading floor of the exchange said Tuesday that the Big Board was justified in yanking Al Jazeera's credentials but added that they believed the reasons the exchange gave were specious. They said they thought the revocation was clearly in retaliation for Al Jazeera's airing of the footage of prisoners of war.

One trader who spoke on condition of anonymity said that the revocation came after a member complained vehemently to NYSE officials Monday about Al Jazeera's presence on the floor.

Another trader who asked not to be identified said that because the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center happened only a few blocks from Wall Street, "a lot of people here wanted these guys off the floor."

Zito said the NYSE conducted background checks of the Al Jazeera commentators, as it does for everyone seeking credentials, and was satisfied that they were legitimate journalists.

Al Jazeera, based in Qatar and partially subsidized by the government of that small nation, originally got its NYSE credentials in 1999, Zito said.

Other broadcasters allowed to provide daily live reports from the NYSE trading floor include CNN, CNBC, Bloomberg TV and Reuters, as well as broadcasters from China, France, Germany, Japan, Italy and Spain.

Broadcasters can apply for permission to do occasional reports from the floor, and Al Jazeera will be free to do the same, Zito said.

Shiber and Al Sankari, broadcasting in Arabic, provided "commentary and analysis, trying to forecast market trends," said Stephanie Thomas, a spokeswoman at Al Jazeera's U.S. headquarters in Washington. She said the network reaches 45 million to 55 million viewers in the Middle East and an estimated 400,000 in the U.S.

Adding to Al Jazeera's troubles Tuesday, hackers attacked the network's collection of Arabic and English-language Web sites, making them nearly inaccessible throughout the day.

Al Jazeera's Web sites -- the network just launched an English version this week -- had posted images of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq.

Executives with Horizons Media & Information Services, the Qatar-based company that hosts the sites, said the hacker incident was a type known as a "denial-of-service" attack. But Internet analysts noted that the site's service had slumped as early as March 23 and attributed the slowdown to the attack.

Officials with Horizons, which has an office in Costa Mesa, said only the U.S.-based servers that host the Al Jazeera site were affected.

The controversy over Al Jazeera comes as the Big Board's leadership already is under fire for trying to appoint beleaguered Wall Street banker Sanford I. Weill to its board of directors. Weill, chairman of Citigroup Inc., withdrew his name Monday after New York Atty. Gen. Eliot Spitzer attacked the nomination as "an outrage."

Staff writer P.J. Huffstutter contributed to this report from Orange County.

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