NYCLU Urges New York Stock Exchange to Lift Ban on Al-Jazeera

Affiliate: ACLU of New York
April 2, 2003 12:00 am

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

NEW YORK-- In a letter sent today to Dick Grasso, Chairman & CEO of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), the New York Civil Liberties Union urged the exchange to rescind its decision to revoke the press credentials of two reporters representing the Arab-language broadcast network Al-Jazeera.

While acknowledging the right of organizations such as the NYSE to advance positions on social and political issues, the NYCLU letter nonetheless terms the reporters' expulsion ""a serious mistake.""

Al-Jazeera, the lone uncensored news network in the Arab world, serves an audience of 35 million people and has covered the NYSE for over five years without incident.

The exchange's decision to remove the reporters was reached just days after Al-Jazeera broadcast pictures of dead U.S. soldiers and prisoners of war in defiance of requests from both the U.S. and British governments. The NYSE maintains its decision was unrelated to this broadcast. However, ""given the chain of events, it is difficult not to view the exchange's decision as retaliation over Al-Jazeera's content,"" said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman.

The NYCLU argued in the letter that the exclusion of Al-Jazeera reporters from the NYSE undermines the exchange's stated commitment ""to ensuring [that its] market is the most open and transparent in the world and that every investor has equal access to financial media,"" as it effectively denies this ""equal access"" to 35 million Arab-speaking viewers.

The letter further states that the exchange's actions undercut ""the values of ideological diversity and pluralism and free expression: that are central to our democratic tradition,"" a fact made all the more relevant given that the current Iraqi conflict stems, at least in part, from a professed desire to sow the seeds of democracy in the Arab world.

""During times of war,"" the letter concludes, ""it is vital that we, as a society, redouble our commitment to democratic principles and values. For we teach by the examples we set. And the world is watching not only our conduct on the battlefield but our conduct at home, as well.""

The NYCLU's letter to the New York Stock Exchange follows.

April 2, 2003

Dick Grasso
Chairman & Chief Executive Officer
New York Stock Exchange, Inc.

Dear Mr. Grasso:

We are writing with respect to the decision of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) to withdraw press credentials from two reporters representing the Al-Jazeera network. As we understand matters, the decision to exclude the Al-Jazeera reporters from the Stock Exchange was reached days after the network broadcast pictures of United States soldiers taken as prisoners of war and placed on display by the Iraqi government in an apparent violation of international conventions and the Law of Armed Conflict. We further understand that the NYSE has denied that the exclusion of the reporters rests upon the content of Al-Jazeera's programming. But, the sequence of events certainly provokes suspicion that the asserted justification advanced by the NYSE for the exclusion of the Al-Jazeera reporters is not, indeed, the real motive.

We can well appreciate the objectionable nature of Iraq's conduct in displaying for public ridicule its prisoners of war. And we do not contest the right of organizations, such as the NYSE, to advance positions on the social and political issues of the day and to express their positions by their conduct. Nevertheless, if as is widely suspected, the NYSE has retaliated against the two reporters on the basis of the content of Al-Jazeera programming, we believe that such retaliation represents a serious mistake. We reach this conclusion for two basic reasons.

First, to your credit, you have announced that the NYSE is ""committed to ensuring [that its] market is the most open and transparent in the world and that every investor has equal access to financial media."" That commitment, however, is clearly diminished by the exclusion of the Al-Jazeera reporters from the Exchange. Prior to last week's exclusionary decision, Al-Jazeera was apparently the only Arab-language broadcaster at the NYSE. Moreover, as the New York Times has observed, Al-Jazeera ""reports to an audience of 35 million people, including some of the richest investors in the world."" If it is the case that providing media outlets with the opportunity to report from the floor of the Exchange enhances access to the financial markets at the NYSE, it follows that the decision to exclude the Al-Jazeera reporters means that a large number of Arab-speaking investors will no longer be granted the ""equal access"" promised by your original commitment.

Second, our country is engaged in a war that President George W. Bush has claimed rests, at least in part, on a desire to bring democracy to Iraq. It is a matter of deep regret, therefore, that as we pursue this war abroad, we seem to be curtailing democratic values at home. Central to our democratic tradition are the values of ideological diversity and pluralism and free expression within a marketplace of ideas. We, as a Nation, hold fast to the view that the response to offensive expression and misguided ideas must be provided by a self-correcting marketplace of debate and discussion and that censorship and coerced silence are not the answer. So understood, our institutions-- whether they be governmental or major private institutions such as the NYSE--convey the wrong message when they respond to wrong-minded views by seeking to silence those who convey such views. During times of war, it is vital that we, as a society, redouble our commitment to democratic principles and values. For we teach by the examples we set. And the world is watching not only our conduct on the battlefield but our conduct at home, as well.

For all of these reasons, we urge that the NYSE rescind its earlier decision regarding Al-Jazeera and that it restore the press credentials to its reporters.

Sincerely,

Donna Lieberman
Executive Director

Arthur N. Eisenberg
Legal Director

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