Baghdad back-pedals on media shutdown plans

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Iraqis chant anti-Maliki government slogans and wave national flags during a demonstration calling on the government for press freedoms in central Baghdad, Iraq. Photo - AP

An outcry by press freedom campaigners has forced the Iraqi government to review its plans to suspend licences of 44 media operations in the country. Ali Nasir, deputy director of Communications and Media Commission, said the news media watchdog will give the targeted organisations more time to pay outstanding fees and renew lapsed licenses.

The commission denied it issued the orders on Monday with an aim to shut down the media outlets and rebuffed reports of a crackdown on press freedoms in the country.

Journalistic Freedoms Observatory, the Iraqi press freedoms watchdog decried the order as “a setback to the freedom of journalism in Iraq,” and accused the government of trying to silence critics.

Nasir said on Tuesday that five organisations, including the BBC and US-funded Radio Sawa, are working with the media commission to settle licensing problems. Other networks on the list are Iraqi, including prominent broadcasters known for their coverage critical of Al Maliki government. Some Shia religious television channels that had no apparent political stance have also been asked to stop their broadcasts.

The deputy head of the Iraqi media watchdog explained that some of the broadcasters targeted for closure are using frequencies that are either licensed to other stations or used by security forces.


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