Iraq Suspends Al Jazeera Broadcast License, Blames Them For Sectarian Violence

The Iraqi Communication and Media Commission (CMC) has revoked the broadcast licenses of 10 TV channels including the news organization Al Jazeera. The move comes after a week of intense fighting between Iraqi Sunni Muslims and the Shia-dominated government. Sunnis began protesting Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s government in December. The protests were largely peaceful until this past Tuesday during clashes between the protesters and security forces. Since then, some 215 people have been killed. This isn't the first time that the CMC has revoked the licences of news organizations. 

The swift judgment took the satellite TV channel AlJazeera by total surprise. As a response, they sent out a statement over email. "We cover all sides of the stories in Iraq, and have done for many years. The fact that so many channels have been hit all at once though suggests this is an indiscriminate decision. We urge the authorities to uphold freedom for the media to report the important stories taking place in Iraq."

So what was the reason given by the CMC for revoking these licences? They claim that the reporting by the 10 channels was "provocative, misleading and exaggerated with the objective of disturbing the civil and democratic process. " Originally the CMC was supposed to operate independently from any other governmental agency but some allege that governmental authorities are involved with broadcasting authority. The CMC began three years ago and is tasked with  granting licenses, regulating communication, broadcasting and information services inside of Iraq.

If anything is “disturbing the civil and democratic process” you would think it would be limiting or silencing the press? A member of the CMC, Mujahid Abu al-Hail, said that the language used by these channels encouraged sectarian violence. The goal of the license revocation, says Hail, is to prevent the satellite channels from reporting. Reuters noted that the CMC has no authority to prevent the channels from broadcasting, but they can make it more difficult for these channels to move around and report from Iraq. This isn’t the first time we have seen the CMC pull a move like this, they did so in 2012 when they ordered the shut down of 44 media outlets. The reason given that time? The news outlets failed to pay their licensing fees. 

The other nine channels who had their license suspended are al-Sharqiya and al-Sharqiya News, Salahuddin, Fallujah, Taghyeer, Baghdad, Babiliya, Anwar 2 and al-Gharbiya. Some of the channels named are known as outspoken critics of the government. They are also predominately Sunni friendly outlets.

Sunni protesters claim the government is unfairly targeting their community and accuse the Maliki government of wrongful detentions. Violence has plagued the Maliki government who has been struggling to curtail growing Sunni unrest. Since the beginning of 2013, some 1,365 Iraqis have been killed.