Rumsfeld was quoted on Wednesday as calling Aljazeera a "Johnny-on-the-spot" and saying: "It is striking that from time to time at least there is a journalist - quote unquote - standing around taking pictures of [attacks]."

Aljazeera's media spokesman Jihad Ballout dismissed Rumsfeld's remarks as "innuendo", saying the channel considered such statements "to be potential safety risks to all journalists who put their lives on the line in pursuit of the truth".

Rumsfeld had said: "Sometimes journalists just happen to be there [at the scene]. But we know for a fact that other times the terrorists have told journalists - and I use the word inadvisedly, quote unquote journalists - they've told journalists where they are going to be and what they're going to do. And the journalists have been there."

Ballout said such statements "unduly obstructs freedom of the press".

Professional ethics

The US defence chief had also said that "over and over again we've seen that Middle Eastern television channel Aljazeera that seems to have a wonderful way of being Johnny-on-the-spot a little too often for my taste".

Iraq's interim government has
 extended the ban on Aljazeera

Rejecting the statement, Aljazeera's spokesman said the channel remains committed "to the dictates of its code of professional ethics, and its constant endeavour to cover a story".

"Any story," Ballout said, would be covered in "a comprehensive, objective and balanced manner irrespective of pressures and obstacles".

Continuing ban

Rumsfeld's statements have come against the backdrop of the Iraqi interim government's continued ban on Aljazeera's operations in the country.

Last Thursday, an Arab National Congress delegation held a sit-in at Aljazeera's bureau in Baghdad to express solidarity with calls for the ban to be revoked.

The Iraqi interim government extended the ban earlier this month, charging that the Qatar-based network's coverage was inciting violence. Its bureau remains sealed.
    

Media rights groups around the globe, including the Committee to Protect Journalists, have demanded a lifting of the ban.