Iraq shuts Al-Baghdadia after bloody church attack

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.