The suspensions, which take effect immediately, appeared to target mainly Sunni channels known for criticizing Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki’s government.
“The Iraqi Communication and Media Commission decided to suspend the licenses of 10 satellite television channels for adopting sectarian language during the events of Hawija,” the Iraqi state-run television station Al-Iraqiya said, quoting the commission’s statement.
The action by the Iraqi media watchdog comes as Baghdad tries to quell rising unrest in the country, which escalated last week after Iraqi security forces launched the deadly Hawija crackdown that resulted in the deaths of 23 people including three soldiers.
Since then, over 180 people have been killed in clashes with security forces, among other attacks. The recent wave of violence follows more than four months of largely peaceful protests against Maliki’s government by Iraq’s Sunni Muslim minority.
Although the channels can still be viewed in Iraq, the suspension prevents news crews affiliated with the channels from reporting on activities in Iraq.
Salem Mashkour, a member of the Iraqi Communication and Media Commission’s board of trustees, told Asharq Al-Awsat that “the work of these channels—in terms of their using sectarian language—is nothing new; we can confirm that we have observed it for nearly four months with some and six months with others. But recently, particularly since the events of Hawija, [sectarian discourse] has increased to the point where it has begun to publicly incite violence and sectarianism. Some of the channels even broadcasted direct calls for murder.”
“The board of trustees had previously contacted them to ask them to change their tone, but nothing came of our requests. This is why we made the decision to suspend their licenses. The decision is subject to appeal before the board of appeals and the Supreme Court,” Mashkour added.
Regarding the appeals process, Mashkour clarified that “these channels have one month to appeal. Should the board of appeals invalidate our decision to suspend their activity, the channels can resume their work. In the event that our decision is approved, the suspension remains in effect until they have amended their [content] and provided a written commitment [to maintain these standards]. However, in the event of a breach of that commitment, the channel will be shut down permanently.”
The Qatar-based Al-Jazeera said it was “astonished” by the move.
“We cover all sides of the stories in Iraq, and have done so for many years. The fact that so many channels have been hit all at once, though, suggests this is an indiscriminate decision,” it said in a statement to the Associated Press. “We urge the authorities to uphold freedom for the media to report the important stories taking place in Iraq.”
Apart from Al-Jazeera, the suspension affected one Shi’ite and eight Sunni channels.