Iraq suspended the operating licenses of 10 TV channels, including pan-Arab broadcaster Al Jazeera, accusing them of escalating sectarian violence in the country.
The suspensions come after Sunni unrest and clashes left more than 180 people dead in under a week. They are likely a signal that the Shiite-led government is worried about the unrest.
The suspensions took effect immediately and will ban the 10 stations from working on Iraqi territory. They were handed down by Iraq’s Communications and Media Commission state, which explained that the news crews will face legal action from security forces if they work inside the country.
The decree essentially keeps the 10 TV stations from reporting on news in the Middle Eastern nation. The suspensions appeared to target mainly Sunni channels who have criticized Prime Minister Nouri al-Malik’s government in the past. Apart from Al Jazeera, the ban affected eight Sunni channels and one Shiite channel.
Mujahid Abu al-Hail, a top official in the Communications and Media Commission, explained of the decision:
“We took a decision to suspend the license of some satellite channels that adopted language encouraging violence and sectarianism. It means stopping their work in Iraq and their activities, so they cannot cover events in Iraq or move around.”
An Al Jazeera spokesman protested the decision on behalf of the station, which is the main broadcaster in the Arab world. The spokesman stated on Sunday, “We urge the authorities to uphold freedom for the media to report the important stories taking place in Iraq.” Al Jazeera added that it was “astonished” by the move.
The channel covered the Arab Spring aggressively and has broadcast extensively on the Syrian civil war. The station is based in Qatar, a country which has been known for backing the rebels in Syria. The country has also been accused of backing protests in Iraq. It is unclear how long the suspension of the 10 TV channels will last.
[Image via Wittylama]