New York, November 2, 2010--The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by the Iraqi authorities' decision to close down Al-Baghdadia TV offices in Iraq. The closure of the Cairo-based satellite channel was announced after it broadcast the demands of gunmen who attacked a church in Baghdad on Sunday. Fifty-eight people were killed during the siege, according to news reports.
On Monday, security forces sealed
the station's Baghdad and
Basra offices. No one was allowed to enter the buildings, according to Al-Baghdadia
bureau chief in Cairo, Abdelhamid al-Saih. The Communications and Media
Commission (CMC), a media regulatory body, issued a statement on its website
announcing the decision to shut Al-Baghdadia's offices.
Al-Saih told CPJ that
the shutdown was illegal since there was no judicial order, just an order from the
CMC. He said he believed the authorities were using the broadcast as a
smokescreen for the real reason why they wanted to shut down Al-Baghdadia. "We have
received complaints before from the CMC regarding a TV program called 'Al-Baghdadia
wa al-nas' (Al-Bagdadia and the People) in which we interview Iraqi
citizens on-air and give them the opportunity to voice their criticism of the
government and officials," he said. Ziad
al-Ajili, director of the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory, a local press
freedom organization, told CPJ that he also thought there were other reasons behind
the closure, including the same critical program.
"We are concerned by the closure of
Al-Baghdadia TV and demand that the CMC explain under what authority it has
stormed the station's offices and censored it," said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ's
Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. "We call on the authorities
to allow the station to resume its operations immediately."
The CMC said in its statement that the attackers had
"contacted the station and selected it to be the exclusive platform for their
inhumane practices with the purpose of disrupting Iraq's national unity and to inflame
religious discord." The statement said the station's broadcast of demands "amounts
to incitement to violence" and that Al-Baghdadia's coverage was not objective,
creating a threat to the military operation by providing attackers with
information about ongoing operations to rescue the hostages.
In February, CPJ described
the CMC's regulations as falling "well short of international standards for
freedom of expression." CPJ also noted the inadequacy of the regulations' vague definition of incitement
to violence, stating that such broad and unspecified standards are used by authoritarian
governments to silence critical coverage.