Iraq to close nine TV stations for ‘inciting violence’

Iraqi security forces clash with demonstrators in Baghdad on Saturday. (Reuters)
Updated 24 November 2019

Iraq to close nine TV stations for ‘inciting violence’

  • Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi and his allies believe that some media outlets are inciting the protesters
  • Dijla, Sharqiya, Al-Arabiya, Al-Hadath and Alhurra Iraq were among the stations that had to close their offices in Iraq

BAGHDAD: The Iraqi Communications and Media Commission (CMC) has decided to warn five TV channels, and close nine, for “violating articles of media licensing regulations,” and “publishing content inciting violence” during coverage of demonstrations, observers told Arab News on Saturday.

Baghdad and nine southern Shiite-dominated provinces have witnessed repeated anti-government demonstrations since Oct. 1. More than 350 demonstrators have been killed and about 16,000 others injured, after security forces began to use live bullets and tear gas canisters.
Local and foreign media have played a pivotal role in documenting and exposing abuses suffered by demonstrators, despite authorities blocking the internet for two weeks in Baghdad and several southern governorates. Social media platforms have also been censored for more than a month.
Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi and his allies believe that some media outlets “are working to sustain the momentum of the demonstrations and incite demonstrators against the government.” The overthrow of the government and the holding of early national parliamentary elections preceded by the changing electoral law, is at the top of the list of demands from demonstrators.
The CMC is the organization responsible for regulating the media and communications in Iraq. It was established in 2004 and, according to the Iraqi constitution, is an independent body not affiliated with the government. However, the majority of its decisions “indicate the full dependence of the government” observers have said.
According to sources, the CMC forced internet and mobile companies to disconnect services to their customers in protest-hit areas and block social networks.
The latest CMC decision saw the closure of the nine local and Arabic TV stations and warnings given to five others “for violating the regularities of media licensing rules.”
Dijla, Sharqiya, Al-Arabiya, Al-Hadath and Alhurra Iraq were among the stations that had to close their offices in Iraq, while Sky News Arabia, Al-Sumaria and Rudaw were among those warned.
The Journalistic Freedoms Observatory, a non-profit organization that monitors abuses against journalists, said in a statement issued on Saturday that it had seen an internal memorandum sent by the CMC to the offices of Abdul Mahdi and the interior minister, recommending the closures and citing the other channels for mishandling coverage of the demonstrations.
“We are used to seeing the CMC lining up every time with the government (against journalists). It is an independent body and its board of trustees is subject to partisan quotas like all government bodies and institutions,” Ziyad Al-Ajaili, the head of the observatory, told Arab News.
“The closure and warning decisions issued by the CMC are not the first ... The body has a bad record in dealing with the media.”
The CMC told Arab News that it does not punish any media in a “qualitative” manner, and that it followed a globally approved media code of conduct that is included in the terms of the work permit granted to the media.
The CMC also said that it dealt with media outlets that violate the terms of the license “amicably” before resorting to warnings and closures, and that it has not yet “publicly” made any new decisions regarding the 14 channels mentioned.
“No decision has been announced so far. There have been irregularities and there have been warnings, but no action has been taken yet and there is no announcement on the matter to date,” a senior CMC official told Arab News.
“As colleagues, we first talk amicably with the journalist or the media concerned before we take any legal action.”


Middle East health authorities on alert amid coronavirus outbreak

Updated 25 min 4 sec ago

Middle East health authorities on alert amid coronavirus outbreak

  • King Abdullah II ordered an aircraft to be sent to evacuate Jordanian nationals from Wuhan
  • WHO representative in Egypt commends efforts taken by officials to screen incoming travelers for infection

DUBAI: Countries across the Middle East have taken swift steps to prevent the spread of the deadly coronavirus 2019-nCoV following an outbreak that began in China’s Hubei province.

From Jordan and Lebanon all the way to Egypt, governments are on high alert to ensure the safety of their citizens.

The infection with pneumonia-like symptoms was first detected on December 31, 2019, in Wuhan city in Hubei.

Wuhan is one of at least 10 cities placed under lockdown by Chinese authorities to control the outbreak.

In Jordan, King Abdullah II has ordered an aircraft to be sent to evacuate Jordanian nationals from the Wuhan “as soon as possible,” according to a statement.

The statement said the government, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates, had obtained the consent of Chinese authorities for the evacuation from Wuhan.

The Jordanian embassy in Beijing said it was in contact with Chinese authorities and Jordanian nationals to complete the evacuation as soon as possible.

Earlier, John Jabbour, the World Health Organization (WHO) representative in Egypt, confirmed that no cases had been reported in the country.

“The Egyptian Health Ministry has taken all necessary preventive measures,” he told the state news agency on Thursday.

“We are keeping daily contact with Health Minister Hala Zayed and the ministry’s preventive-medicine sector to follow up on any developments.”

Jabbour commended the ministry’s efforts to deal with the situation by screening incoming travelers at all harbors and airports.

He said advisory preventive guidance measures have been issued to all health directorates for educating citizens about the outbreak.

The Egyptian Embassy in Beijing said on Saturday night that there were no infections among the Egyptian community in China, adding that it was monitoring conditions in Wuhan city, the epicenter of the outbreak.

Hamad Hassan, Lebanon’s Minister of Public Health, said on Friday no 2019-nCoV cases had been reported in the country. “(There was some) concern over the spread of the H1N1 flu,” he said, adding that “there is no need to panic over the spread of this or any other disease.”

He said patients with suspected coronavirus infection will be offered treatment immediately after diagnosis free of charge, adding that the ministry’s epidemiological surveillance unit would be deployed in the field.

In neighboring Syria, the Health Ministry also said no 2019-nCoV infections had been detected in the country, although strict measures were being taken at border crossings.

In a statement issued on Saturday, the ministry said that strict measures were being taken at harbors, land border crossings and at Damascus International Airport to detect suspected coronavirus infections.

Turkish authorities have not reported any 2019-nCoV cases during screenings of aircraft passengers from China using thermal cameras, according to news agencies.

Announcing on Friday that thermal cameras had been installed at all airports in the country, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca disclosed that one suspected infection had been detected and action taken.

“A Chinese national, who had a complaint of nausea, headache and uneasiness in Istanbul’s Buyuk Cekmece district, was isolated from other patients as a precaution on Wednesday night after (we learnt) she came from Wuhan,” he said.

“Although the general condition of the patient was good, her case was considered as suspicious due to her travel history. We sent her back to China this morning upon her request.”

Although no cases have been proven or confirmed yet in the Middle East, the WHO wants travelers with symptoms to seek medical attention and share travel history with their healthcare provider.

The WHO wants public health authorities to provide travelers with information to reduce the general risk of acute respiratory infections, via health practitioners, travel health clinics, travel agencies, conveyance operators and at points of entry. 

“Coronavirus infections are highly contagious, and symptoms are usually similar to that of the flu,” Dr Ali Mohammad, specialist pulmonologist at Aster Clinics in Dubai, told Arab News.

“Human coronaviruses most commonly spread from an infected person to others through the air by coughing and sneezing, close personal contact, such as touching or shaking hands, touching an object or surface with the virus on it, then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes before washing your hands, as well as, rarely, fecal contamination.”