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Iraqi authorities suspend licences of 10 TV stations

A private security guard stands guard at al-Jazeera's headquarters in Baghdad, Iraq on 29 April 2013
A private security guard stands guard at al-Jazeera's headquarters in Baghdad, Iraq on 29 April 2013

AP Photo/Hadi Mizban

Reporters Without Borders firmly condemns the decision on 28 April 2013 by Iraq's Media and Communications Commission to suspend the licences of 10 foreign-based satellite TV channels for “inciting violence and sectarianism.”

“This draconian and disproportionate decision has seriously endangered freedom of information,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Although the media must act responsibly, they are just doing their job when they cover Iraq's current serious divisions and tension. "

“We urge the Media and Communications Commission to quickly rescind this decision and to allow the media to cover all developments of general interest throughout the country.”

Iraq has experienced sectarian conflicts for years but the surge in violence of the past week suggests that it could escalate into civil war at any time. More than 230 people have been killed and at least 350 have been injured in a wave of Sunni protests against Shiite Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki's government.

The satellite TV stations affected by the ban have all been covering these developments. Some carried speeches by Sunni leaders on 26 April urging young men to take up arms against the government. The Media and Communications Commission subsequently announced it was suspending the licences of “certain satellite TV channels using a language that encourages violence and sectarianism.”

Nine of the ten TV stations are Sunni-financed. They include Qatar-based Al-Jazeera and Dubai-based Al-Sharqiya, which is owned by a rich Iraqi businessman and has many viewers among the Iraqi public. The other stations are Baghdad, Al-Sharqiya News, Al-Fallujah, Babylonian, Salah Al-Din, Al-Tagheer, Al-Gharbiya and Anwar 2.

The decision to suspend their licences is widely seen as a way of silencing the government's opponents. As the stations are all based abroad, the Iraqi government cannot prevent them from broadcasting, but their Iraq-based crews will no longer be able to cover events and move about the country.

What other IFEX members are saying
  • Iraq government pulls plug on broadcast news outlets

    IPI Deputy Director Anthony Mills said: “While news media have a responsibility to refrain from incitement, the indiscriminate closure of so many broadcast stations appears to be a violation of press freedom.”

  • Iraqi government bans 10 satellite channels

    "The Iraqi government is conflating dissent with incitement," said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Coordinator Sherif Mansour. "Authorities should immediately reverse this decision, which is clearly designed to stifle reporting on the ongoing violence, and allow these news outlets to operate freely."

  • Iraq: Cancel revocations of TV station licenses

    “At a time when the security forces are attacking protesters without punishment, it’s hard to believe the government’s claims that it canceled these channels’ licenses out of its concern to protect citizens from violence,” Whitson said. “The authorities have a responsibility to protect citizens, but also to protect their free speech and access to information. The media commission’s inability to cite any specific examples of incitement to violence by these ten TV stations it has decided to shut down is telling.”

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