After police accompanied by an employee of the Communications and Media Commission (CMC) closed the Iraqi-owned TV station’s Baghdad bureau on 16 March, the operation was repeated at its other bureaux in the rest of the country and its licence was withdrawn.
“We call on the Iraqi authorities to stop harassing Al-Baghdadia TV and to allow it to operate normally,” said Alexandra El Khazen, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk. “This TV station’s licence must be restored and its employees must be able to go back to work. Closing Al-Baghdadia TV sends a disturbing message about freedom of information in Iraq.”
The interior ministry issued a statement on 17 March saying the closure was ordered by the CMC, which has accused certain broadcast media outlets of operating illegally and without a licence.
According to local media and our Iraqi partner organization, the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory (JFO), the closure was the result of decision taken during the administration of the previous prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki.
The same sources also reported that the authorities prevented Al-Baghdadia TV employees from entering their offices. Al-Baghdadia TV director Najem Al-Rabi’i told JFO that the CMC gave the station no prior warning or notification.
Al-Rabi’i later told RSF that the government regarded the station as dangerous because of its investigative reporting on corruption cases and, more recently, the extensive coverage it gave to street demonstrations.
This is by no means the first time that Al-Baghdadia TV has been persecuted by the Iraqi authorities. The Egyptian satellite company Nilesat stopped carrying its signal in June 2014 as a result of a complaint filed by the Iraqi communications ministry.
Al-Baghdadia TV formally suspended all operations in Iraq on 25 November 2010, a few days after the CMC closed all of its bureaux. And they remained closed until April 2014, when the station was allowed to resume operating as a result of a court ruling.
The CMC was created in 2003, in the immediate aftermath of the US-led military intervention, with the task of regulating the media. According to local media reports, it is now planning to close 13 local radio stations in Basra's province on the grounds that they are operating without licences.
Iraq is ranked 156th out of 180 countries in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index.