Iraq’s media regulatory body has ordered the closure of 44 media outlets in the country, including the BBC and Voice of America. Sources with knowledge of the order said on Sunday the dispute escalated over broadcast licences.
US-funded Radio Sawa and privately-owned local TV channels like Sharqiya and Baghdadia are also on the suspension list.
A senior source at the Communications and Media Commission (CMC), the body responsible for the order, denied suggestions the move had anything to do with the way the outlets reported on sectarian conflict in the country.
“The CMC sent such a letter warning them that they’re going to shut down their services because they didn’t pay (their license fees),” a senior source at the CMC told Reuters.
The source added that orders have been passed to the Baghdad operations command, referring to the local law enforcement forces who would carry out the closures.
Baghdad’s latest move is attracting widespread alarm and criticism.
“This is totally wrong and unwise as it comes at a time when the country is plunged into political uncertainty,” Ziyad al-Ajili, head of the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory, said in a statement.
“What we are confident of is that the decision was not political, but its negative implications will definitely have political implications on the government and harm the reputation of Iraq as a free country,” he added.
The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) said it was negotiating the renewal of its license with the Iraqi authorities.
“The delay is due to technicalities,” the London-based media giant said in a statement adding that the BBC’s journalists in Baghdad are not currently experiencing any issues reporting from the country.
“It is important that the BBC and other international news organisations are able to operate freely and bring independent and impartial news to audiences in Iraq and the wider region,” BBC said in a statement.
Some media outlets on the list no longer operate bureaux in Iraq.
Iraq’s is suffering a tense political standoff as different political factions have locked horns since December last year. Opponents of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki accuse the Shia leader of power abuse and corruption.
The oil-rich nation’s Sunni, Kurd and some Shia parties have joined hands to motion a vote of no-confidence against him in the Iraqi parliament.