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White House In Plea To TV Networks

The Bush administration has told television network executives that Osama bin Laden and his associates may be using videotaped messages to secretly communicate with each other, and asked the networks to "exercise judgment" in broadcasting the messages.

Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, called network news executives on Wednesday to raise administration concerns about the broadcast of messages "that could be a signal to terrorists to incite attacks," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. She asked the executives to "exercise judgment" about broadcasting them, but did not order the networks not to, Fleischer said.

"CBS News and the other news organizations on the call affirmed their commitment to responsible journalism that informs the public without jeopardizing American lives," said CBS News President Andrew Heyward.

Fleischer said he had no "hard indications" that covert messages were embedded in the videotaped statements that have been aired by networks in recent days. But, he said, the means of communications from Afghanistan to the outside world are limited. "One way to communicate outside Afghanistan to followers is through Western media," he said.

Inside al-Jazeera
The White House made its appeal after Qatar's al-Jazeera television aired prerecorded statements by bin Laden and other al-Qaida officials. The statements were immediately picked up by major networks in the United States and broadcast worldwide.

Al Jazeera reporters say they are just covering the story and that they air all major U.S. announcements in addition to bin Laden's.

"We did not put out something that really U.S. media cannot put…or lower than the standard of U.S. media," said Hafez Al-Mirazi, Al Jazeera's Washington bureau chief.

Al-Jazeera is the first 24-hour television news network in the Arab world with more than 50 correspondents working in 31 countries around the globe. It is also the first Arab news organization that is independent and uncensored.

Click here for "60 Minutes" Correspondent Ed Bradley's inside look at al-Jazeera.

"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," Fleischer said.

Fleischer said he knew of no similar calls to news xecutives outside the United States, or to newspapers or other media in this country.

Secretary of State Colin Powell said statements made by bin Laden's terrorist organization and broadcast on televisions around the world may contain "some kind of message."

Powell said analysts were looking at the statements, including the one made Tuesday by al-Qaida spokesman Abu Ghaith praising the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the United States and warning there would be more.

The secretary of state, appearing on CNN, also thanked the network for limiting its broadcast of the statements.

"I think it's responsible on the part of CNN to shade that a little bit so that we don't have it coming full force at us and with the potential of perhaps conveying some kind of message," he said.

CNN said it would not air statements from Al-Qaida live and will 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."

Network news division heads, talking amongst themselves after speaking to Rice, agreed that in the future, they will review statements before airing them in their entirety, said a network executive who requested anonymity.

On Tuesday, CNN aired Abu Ghaith's statement in its entirety as soon as it was made available, as did MSNBC. Fox News Channel began airing the statement but then cut it off, and later aired excerpts.

©MMI CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report

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