The Communications and Media Committee (CMC), the body that oversees media regulation in Iraq, has suspended the license of news organization Al-Hurra, accusing the network of bias and defamation. The three-month suspension, which was handed down on September 3, has drawn criticism from activists across the globe. Al-Hurra receives funding from the US Agency for Global Media, which is connected to the federal government in Washington.

The suspension Al-Hurra’s activities in Iraq is related to a documentary, broadcast August 31, which alleged corruption within senior religious authorities (“endowments”) in the country, both Sunni and Shi’ite.

The suspension of Al-Hurra’s activities in Iraq is related to a documentary, broadcast August 31, which alleged corruption within senior religious authorities (“endowments”) in the country, both Sunni and Shi’ite. The film reported that religious authorities are involved in misusing state funds in relation to religious sites and real estate. It also included claims that certain endowments are linked to militias engaged in serious crimes. 

In a statement, the CMC accused Al-Hurra of failing to uphold the principles of professional journalism and of using anonymous sources to defame individuals, respected institutions, and the state. The CMC also stated that Al-Hurra must cease all activities until it “corrects its position” and broadcasts an official apology. 

“These steps are tantamount to a final warning to the station, and a tougher punishment will be taken in case this offense is repeated,” the statement said. Both Sunni and Shi’ite officials attacked the television report. The Hashed al-Shaabi Shi’ite paramilitary force accused Al-Hurra of having “a hostile news policy.”

In response, Al-Hurra refused to back down, insisting that its investigation had been conducted in a “fair, balanced, and professional manner.”

Press freedom groups have widely condemned the suspension of Al-Hurra. “We call on Iraq’s media regulator to revoke the suspension of Al-Hurra’s license and allow its staff to do their jobs freely and without fear of reprisal,” said Ignacio Miguel Delgado, Middle East and North Africa representative for The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). 

“Reporting on corruption should lead Iraqi authorities to bring those responsible to account rather than to suspend a broadcaster’s license.”

“Reporting on corruption should lead Iraqi authorities to bring those responsible to account rather than to suspend a broadcaster’s license.”

The US government denies any involvement in Al-Hurra’s journalistic output. A spokesman for the US Embassy in Baghdad, Pedro Marin, told Reuters that “Al-Hurra’s mission is to deliver accurate and objective information on the region, American policies and Americana.” 

Marin added that the Iraqi government has the right to question Al-Hurra on any reporting it regards as problematic, but not to suspend its right to broadcast. Under Iraqi law, no such suspension is authorized without a court order, which was lacking in this case. His comments mirrored the response of The US Agency for Global Media itself, which pointed out in a statement that, during the investigation in question: “individuals and institutions involved were given the right of reply, which they declined.”

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) currently ranks Iraq at number 156 out of 180 countries in its media freedom index… Attacks on press freedom such as the one currently being leveled against Al-Hurra will do nothing to salvage Iraq’s reputation with respect to press freedom.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) currently ranks Iraq at number 156 out of 180 countries in its media freedom index. RSF cites arbitrary detention and intimidation of journalists among its reasons for ranking Iraq so low, along with concerns such as the fact that the country has no law regulating journalistic access to information classified by the state. Attacks on press freedom such as the one currently being leveled against Al-Hurra will do nothing to salvage Iraq’s reputation with respect to press freedom.