Saddam Hussein’s repressive regime maintained its stranglehold over all of Iraq’s institutions, including the press. Print and broadcast media are closely controlled by the government or by Hussein’s infamous son Uday, who owns or runs a number of influential media outlets.
Criticism of the Hussein family or top officials is not tolerated in any form. Insulting the president or other government authorities is punishable by death. Hagiographic coverage of the country’s political leaders and vilifications of their enemies fill the press.
The Iraqi government, which is the country’s sole Internet service provider, began offering limited online access to the public for the first time in 2000. Internet content is heavily censored, and only a few locations allow users to surf the Web. Private Internet access is forbidden, modems and cellular telephones are said to be banned, and fax machines can be used only with government permission.
It is also a criminal offense to possess a satellite dish. In late 1999, the government announced that it would allow restricted access to satellite television on a subscription basis. In May 2001, Iraqi newspapers reported that implementation was imminent. It is unclear, however, whether the service actually became available or not.
Foreign correspondents who are permitted to enter Iraq face numerous obstacles. Foreign journalists are required to travel with government minders from the Ministry of Information. Travel outside Baghdad requires written approval, and traveling to a location not specified in the request is forbidden. During the last year, authorities banned foreign correspondents from traveling to Kurdish-controlled areas in the north of the country, citing security concerns.
In the U.N.-mandated northern enclaves, which are not controlled by the government, rival Kurdish factions operate their own television stations and newspapers beyond the reach of official Iraqi repression.