Iraq tightens noose on media outlets

CMC is urged to withdraw regulations which violate the Iraq constitution

BAGHDAD - Iraq's Communications and Media Commission has decided to place restrictions on 39 media outlets including the BBC and Voice of America over alleged licence problems, a CMC official said on Monday.
But the Journalism Freedoms Observatory (JFO), an Iraqi media rights organisation, said that the CMC had in fact recommended banning 44 news outlets, and called for the move, which it said violated the constitution, to be reversed.
"The commission published an announcement in all newspapers in February calling for them to take licences in two months to resolve their situations," said Salem Mashkur, a member of the board of trustees of the CMC, the independent authority charged with regulating media organisations in Iraq.
"But only a small number applied, and 39 media outlets preferred not to come and not to apply the law," he said.
Mashkur alleged that Voice of America had never obtained a licence, while the BBC had done so for its Arabic but not its English service.
"The interior ministry requested a list of names of unlicensed channels from us and began to limit their travel only, and did not carry out raids or closures or confiscation of equipment, as is our right," he said, adding that the aim was to "help them and the organisation of the work, only."
The JFO, however, said it had obtained a copy of a document issued by the CMC that "recommends banning 44 Iraqi and foreign media agencies from working in various areas in Iraq."
"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," the JFO said in an emailed statement.
"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," it said.
The group "also calls on the PM Nuri al-Maliki to rein in the behaviour of the CMC, since he appointed its acting chief."
Iraq regularly ranks near the bottom of global press freedom rankings. It placed 152nd out of 179 countries in media rights watchdog Reporters Without Borders' 2011-2012 World Press Freedom Index, down 22 from the year before.