Beirut, April 6, 2022 – Iraqi authorities must drop their suspension of the “With Mulla Talal” talk show and allow the UTV network to air its programming freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Wednesday.
During a broadcast of “With Mulla Talal” on Monday, April 4, presenter Ahmad Mulla Talal and Iraqi actor Ayad al-Tayee, dressed as a military general, hosted a satirical discussion on the alleged sale of top posts in the country’s military and the misappropriation of government funds.
The following day, the Communications and Media Commission state regulator suspended “With Mulla Talal” indefinitely for “insulting the military,” according to news reports, that suspension order, and statements by UTV and Talal.
The program has been off the air since receiving that order, UTV tweeted.
“Iraqi authorities should recognize that journalists and media outlets have the right to air critical coverage of the country’s military,” said Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, in Washington, D.C. “The Communications and Media Commission should drop its suspension of the ‘With Mulla Talal’ talk show and ensure that journalists can discuss newsworthy topics without fear of reprisal.”
On Monday, the Iraqi Defense Ministry published a Facebook post saying that the satirical segment “harms the reputation of the entire Iraqi army and erases all their sacrifices,” and accused al-Tayee of impersonating a soldier. That post also said that the channel failed to add a disclaimer that the satirical segment was separate from its journalist work, “to prevent viewers’ confusion that the person being interviewed is a real officer in the Iraqi army.”
The suspension order, issued after the Defense Ministry filed a complaint, called the segment “a clear insult to the Iraqi army and all its members” which posed a threat to the army’s cohesion, and constituted “incitement and hate speech against the army.” The order also asked that the segment be removed from UTV’s social media platforms, and that UTV issue an apology to the military.
Talal wrote in a Facebook post that he would not apologize, and said that Iraq had “moved from the stage of corruption and failure to that of corruption, failure, muzzling, and dictatorship, and what is coming is worse.”
UTV is owned by the son of politician Khamis al-Khanjar, according to reports. “With Mulla Talal” is a weekly program that frequently features interviews with politicians and analysts to discuss daily news and Iraqi politics, and has aired daily episodes including the satirical show featuring al-Tayee during Ramadan.
In a statement published on April 5, UTV said it was a mistake not to better separate the satirical segment from the other programming on the talk show, but called the suspension “arbitrary and unacceptable professionally,” saying that the program “didn’t incite violence and hatred but was critical and satirical,” and “did not broadcast false news.”
CPJ emailed the Iraqi Communications and Media Commission and the Ministry of Defense for comment, but did not receive any replies.