An official document has been obtained by the JFO, revealing that security forces in Iraq have received orders from the authorities to shut down the offices of 44 media agencies. Included are prominent local TV channels and radio stations such as Sharqiya and Baghdadia satellite television stations and foreign-owned media such as BBC, Radio Sawa and Voice of America.
This matter comes at the time of escalated public debate between the administration of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and political opponents about the threats and the pressures that journalists have been exposed to during the current ongoing political crisis. On June 20, followers of cleric Muqtada al Sadr held a demonstration in Baghdad’s Firdos Square, in which they protested restrictions on Iraqi media, as well as calling for a vote of no confidence in Mr. Maliki to be held at the Iraqi parliament.
The document obtained by the JFO was issued by the CMC (Communications and Media Commission), signed by acting director Safa al-Din Rabiah, and was addressed to the Ministry of Interior. It recommends banning 44 Iraqi and foreign media agencies from working in various areas in Iraq, including Kurdistan. The document states it has already been approved by the Deputy Interior Minister Adnan al-Assadi, described in the letter as having instructed the ministry’s Department of Relations and Media “to stop media cooperation with these agencies and to notify the police to ban these channels along with the necessity of informing the channels to contact the CMC.”
In past decisions, the CMC has caused controversy for its heavy-handed regulations and tactics, seen by critics as conducting a program to undermine freedom of expression in Iraq by ordering arrests, fines and the closing of media organizations, which many media workers argue demonstrates a bias in favor of the current political administration.
The document was circulated among police forces in Baghdad on May 8, 2012, five days after the International Press Freedom Day. In it, the CMC informs the interior ministry that it has suspended the operating licenses, or has banned cameramen and other media workers from working, from television stations such as Sharqiya, Baghdadia, al-Diyar, Babliya and BBC, and radio stations such as al-Marbad, Nawa, Radio Sawa, Nawa, and Voice of America. In the document, the CMC also states that additional TV channels and media agencies are currently not licensed and requested by the interior ministry to have legal action taken against them.
CMC has begun implementing a list of regulations, issued before the last election under the pretense of silencing the media agencies that encourage the sectarian violence. International media and human rights organizations have written that such regulations are undue restrictions to the freedom of speech and media.
Prominent Baghdad journalist Sarmad al-Taee said, “The list of regulations clearly shows how restrictions are preemptive, vague and easily misused,” and demanded “immediate talks between the Iraqi media and CMC, to review the murky relationship between the CMC and the private media sector.”
The list of regulations states that media agencies refrain from broadcasting “any content that encourages sectarianism or violence,” without providing a clear guidelines or definitions. The list also states that all media agencies must be licensed by the CMC before beginning work in Iraq, but lacks sufficient information regarding the standards that the government is using in order to give out these licenses.The list also gives the authority to the CMC to shut down or suspend, fine and confiscate the equipment of media organizations due to minor violations.
The CMC has collected substantial fees from various media organizations, as high as 1,600,000,000 Iraqi Dinars($1.37 million USD).
The JFO calls on CMC to withdraw regulations which violate the Iraq constitution, which guarantees the freedom of the press, and to follow existing media legislation, instead of those enacted by the CPA under Paul Bremer. The JFO also calls on the PM Nouri al-Maliki to reign in the behavior of the CMC, since he appointed its acting chief.