Rice urged broadcast executives to “exercise judgment” in deciding whether to broadcast such taped messages, but did not order networks to stop airing them, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.
“She stressed that she is making a request and that editorial decisions can only be made by the media,” he said.
A videotaped message from al-Qaida spokesman Abu Ghaith was broadcast on some networks yesterday, while a message from bin Laden himself was aired Sunday. Both videotapes came through Qatar-based Al-Jazeera television.
CNN and MSNBC had aired the statement as soon as it was made available. Fox News Channel began airing the statement, but then cut it off and aired excerpts later.
Bin Laden and al-Qaida are considered the prime suspects in last month’s attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon that left more than 5,500 dead.
Fleischer said al-Qaida’s messages were “propaganda, calling on people to kill Americans.
“At worst, [bin Laden] could be issuing orders to his followers to initiate such attacks,” he said.
The White House had no “hard indications” bin Laden and his deputies were using such statements for communication purposes, Fleischer said, but he noted “one way to communicate outside Afghanistan to followers is through Western media.”
Fleischer said a similar request could also be made to newspapers. He said he didn’t know of any such requests being made to news executives outside the U.S.
For their part, broadcast news organizations have said they will review statements by al-Qaida before putting them on the air.
NBC said it would “apply journalistic judgment before deciding which portions, if any, we will broadcast.”
The network described the conference call with Rice as a “cordial discussion.”
CNN agreed to similar terms, saying in a statement the network “will not air statements from Al-Queda live and will review them first before deciding how to handle them.”
The network said it “will consider guidance from appropriate authorities” when making its decisions.
Fox News Channel also said it would “carefully review” content from al-Qaida, and said “a free press must and can bear responsibility not to be used by those who want to destroy America and endanger the lives of its citizens.”
CBS News said this issue was one they’d already been evaluating, and said it had a commitment to “responsible journalism that informs the public without jeopardizing American lives.”
ABC News President David Westin said his network would first review any al-Qaida statement in its entirety and then exercise “its editorial judgment as to whether portions of the statements should be aired and, if so, in what form.”