Iraq Suspends U.S-funded TV Station after Corruption Report

  • The twelve-minute documentary television broadcast contains reports of widespread corruption and abuse of a number of religious institutions, including Shia and Sunni religious organizations.
  • In response to this decision, Alhurra's network management said the documentary was "fair, professional and balanced."
  • Reporters Without Borders ranked Iraq 156th in the world in press freedoms, indicating a severe restriction on media activity in that country.

The government’s media watchdog in Iraq has suspended Alhurra TV for three months. The panel accused Alhurra of bias, citing a documentary broadcast as “lacking professional credentials and credible evidence,” and ordered it be suspended for three and a half months to correct its position. The media watchdog has asked the television network to officially apologize for broadcasting the documentary.

The twelve-minute documentary television broadcast contains reports of widespread corruption and abuse of a number of religious institutions, including Shia and Sunni religious organizations, some related to Ayatollah Ali Sistani. Some of these institutions are also closely linked to militant groups, the documentary says.

Alhurra (“The Free One”) is a United States-based public Arabic-language satellite TV channel broadcasting news and current affairs programming to audiences in the Middle East and North Africa. Alhurra is operated by the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN), which also operates Radio Sawa.

Sunni institutions accused of corruption in the program have denied the documentary’s content, saying they intend to take legal action against Alhurra, but Shiite institutions have not commented yet. In addition to suspending the network’s license, the media watchdog has said it will not be allowed to resume operations until it “corrects its approach.”

In response to this decision, Alhurra’s network management said the documentary was “fair, professional and balanced,” and added that “relevant individuals and institutions were given ample opportunity and opportunity to respond, but they did not respond to the network’s request.” Network management has said that “we still invite these agencies to provide us with comments and responses to the documentary content.”

Alhurra television network “is committed to fair and professional journalism in Arabic throughout the region. Given the major political, economic and social challenges the region faces, there is a need for greater transparency and honesty, not less,” Alhurra management said.

Alhurra’s funding comes from the United States, although US officials have insisted on its independence, and Alhurra’s executives have said they have complete freedom of action.

A spokesman for the US embassy in Baghdad has said that the US State Department and its embassy in Iraq have no legal right to intervene in Alhurra’s programs. According to him, “Alhurra’s mission is to provide accurate and objective information on the conditions of the region and US government policy.” He added that the Iraqi government has the right to investigate any case that it believes to have spread inaccurate news and information.

Sayyid Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani is described as the spiritual leader of Iraqi Shia Muslims. Ayatollah Sistani is one of the most powerful and influential Iranian Twelver Shia marja in Iraq and one of the most senior clerics in Shia Islam.

The United States launched the network in 2008. Currently, the main mission of the network is to broadcast news and programs about Iraq, the Middle East, and North Africa.

According to Reporters Without Borders, Iraq ranks 156th in the world in terms of media freedom, which indicates a severe restriction on media activity in that country.

The reason for this situation, in addition to legal deficiencies and the government’s approach, is the pressure of various institutions and organizations, including militant and religious groups, on the mass media.

The Institute for Monitoring Media Freedom has also described the Iraqi media watchdog’s decision as “hasty and illegal,” and said it was the first time in five years that the decision to suspend the activity of an Iraqi media had been adopted and implemented so rapidly.

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Joyce Davis

My history goes back to 2002 and I  worked as a reporter, interviewer, news editor, copy editor, managing editor, newsletter founder, almanac profiler, and news radio broadcaster.


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