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.”