Iraqi broadcaster and radio station forced off the air

New York, December 17, 2012–Iraqi security forces shut down two broadcast outlets on Friday for alleged administrative violations, according to news reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Iraqi authorities to allow the stations to resume broadcasting immediately.

Security forces surrounded the Baghdad offices of the Cairo-based satellite channel Al-Baghdadia TV, and Radio Al-Mahaba, an independent women’s radio broadcaster, and forced the outlets off the air, according to news reports and local press freedom groups. The soldiers also forced the staff out of the buildings, the reports said.

The Ministry of Interior said in a statement on Thursday that Al-Baghdadia TV had violated unspecified broadcast transmission rules, refused to sign a list of unspecified media regulations, and not paid broadcasting fees owed to the Communications and Media Commission (CMC). The ministry said that Al-Mahaba was shut down because it had not paid broadcasting fees. Both stations have denied the allegations, news reports said.

News accounts reported that journalists at Al-Baghdadia said they believed the station was shut down in connection to its exposure of corruption of government officials. Radio Al-Mahaba, the first women’s radio station in Iraq, covers women’s issues and reports critically on the government, news reports said.

“Iraqi authorities should not arbitrarily shut down news outlets because they don’t like the coverage,” said Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. “We call on the authorities to allow the stations to resume operations immediately.”

In June, the CMC released a statement ordering the closure of 44 Iraqi and foreign media outlets including Al-Baghdadia TV, the BBC, and Voice of America in connection with alleged licensing lapses, according to news reports. No immediate actions were taken. It is unclear if the closure of these two outlets is related to that order.

Al-Baghdadia TV has often been targeted by the government for its critical stance and exposure of government corruption, according to news reports. On November 24, security forces prevented Al-Baghdadia TV journalists from covering the events of Ashoura, an important Shia commemoration, and accused the station’s reporters of being supporters of Saddam Hussein, news reports said. In 2010, Iraqi authorities briefly shut down Al-Baghdadia TV offices after it broadcast the demands of gunmen who attacked a church in Baghdad.

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